Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sermon 1 March 2015

Sermon preached by the Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr., Vicar of the Church of the Atonement, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on 1 March 2015, the Second Sunday in Lent. The Text was St. Matthew 15:21-28.


Religion of one’s choice: The liberty to leave

Published in the March 2015 Charleston Mercury.

By Charles A. Collins, Jr.
“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.” So goes an anonymous quote that featured prominently in cheesy posters from the 1970s, but despite the indeterminate source and somewhat unusual context (at least in my mind), it contains at least a nugget of truth.
The ruling handed down by the Judge Dianne S. Goodstein of the First Judicial Circuit on February 3 has ramifications that go beyond Anglican Church or even religious issues. Citing a 1984 case, Robert v. United States Jaycees, Judge Goodstein asserted, “With the freedom to associate goes its corollary, the freedom to disassociate.” That seems elementary even to this (legal) layman — association and affection that is compelled may be many things, but it most certainly is not free.
For this Anglican who is one by conviction and studied choice — who entered seminary as a Presbyterian and was drawn to the Anglican Way in large part because of the Book of Common Prayer — the timing comes at a most precipitous time. My friend the Rev. Dr. Peter Moore has elsewhere in this issue done an excellent job tracing the decline of orthodoxy in The Episcopal Church that led to this point as only one who lived much of it as a priest and seminary dean could do. Although I may not look like it in comparison to the youthful and vigorous Dean Moore, I’m a bit younger with a more limited range of personal experience.
This decision comes at a precipitous time and not so much because of the inevitable appeals; rather, these things don’t happen in a vacuum. (A motion to reconsider was filed by TEC and its local representatives on February 13, but it was denied a few days before we went to press.) Indeed, let us consider church matters beyond the Episcopal/Anglican dispute. Note with care the theological revisionism evidenced in TEC, which has closely paralleled that taking place in other religious bodies belonging to what was largely known as the Protestant Mainline.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church, the largest Lutheran body in the nation, has undergone the largest church split in American history during the past few years with 500,000 members departing primarily for the North American Lutheran Church, which has parishes locally in North Charleston and Goose Creek and held their 2014 Convocation at The Citadel last July. The policies involving ownership of property among the Lutherans precluded the kind of court battles that occurred in TEC; that is not, however, the case with the Presbyterian Church (USA), in which presbyteries lay claim to the property held in trust by local congregations.
As was the case with the Lutherans and Episcopalians, issues surrounding human sexuality have been the area in which the symptoms of theological revisionism have been most evident. Those congregations wishing to depart the Presbyterian Church (USA) have typically had to pay some of the assessment that would be due had they not departed under a policy known as “gracious dismissal.” In at least one case a minister allowed the manse in which he and his family lived to be sold so that the congregation that he served could depart. Locally, Rockville Presbyterian Church on Wadmalaw Island departed Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church several years ago.
If Judge Goldstein’s ruling stands, it could have significant implications for mainline Presbyterians in South Carolina, possibly making it easier for congregations to depart with their property — something that is relevant as the two presbyteries that cover the coast of South Carolina will vote on whether or not to allow same-sex blessings in late February or early March.
Judge Goldstein’s ruling upholds the historic principle that free association cannot be coerced. It will be appealed and studied for years to come. Stay alert for breaking developments that will almost certainly have ramifications far beyond Episcopal/Anglican circles.
The Reverend Charles A. Collins, Jr., serves as vicar of The Church of the Atonement, a Reformed Episcopal Parish in the Anglican Church in North America in Mount Pleasant. He may be contacted atdrew.collins@gmail.com.




Friday, December 5, 2014

Resist the war on Advent

Published in the December 2014 Charleston Mercury.

by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Late on the evening of October 31, I was headed home from a Halloween gathering with friends when I stopped off by a drug store near my house to pick up a few items. I run in there every few days and couldn’t help but notice that the copious Halloween goods that had been on display had now been replaced by Christmas goods — and it wasn’t quite November yet. At least one local radio station went to an around-the-clock Christmas music format just a few days later.
Much is made each year of the “war on Christmas.” Creeping political correctness seeks to marginalize the importance of Jesus’ birth to avoid offending those who may not celebrate the holiday; thus Christmas festivals are renamed “Winter Festivals” and the ACLU attacks nativity scenes on public property (some Christians even complain about the fairly innocuous abbreviation “X-mas,” although in the interest of full disclosure the Greek letter Chi has often been used as shorthand for “Christ” — and one examining the notes that I’ve written in the margin of my Bible would note that I use it myself). While those things concern me to some extent, I find that our culture is in danger of going to another extreme that is fraught with its own perils — that of rushing headlong into Christmas (sometimes from commercial motives) and forgetting the Advent season altogether.
Advent — that season that commences the church year preceding Christmastide — is an important gift, as Christians are reminded that Jesus will come again just as He did on that very first Christmas. It directs our attention to the consummation of the age when Christ will return in glory to judge the world. That’s a message that’s not nearly as appealing to many people as the babe in the manger that we celebrate at Christmas, but the fact that God the Son — the second Person of the Triune Godhead — condescended to earth, took on our form and was born of a woman to redeem His people who had gone astray only adds to the wonder of the season.
So resist the temptation to rush headlong into Christmas; savor Advent as we prepare to thank God for our Savior’s incarnation. Take seriously this call to prepare for His consummate return. Once Christmas has arrived, resist the culture’s rush to shudder it all until next … well, October apparently. Relish all 12 days of Christmas in celebration of Jesus’ incarnation.
The Rev’d Charles A. Collins, Jr. currently serves as 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.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

An Unofficial Cycle of Prayer for the Anglican Church in North America

Shortly before the Common Cause Partnership birthed the Anglican Church in North America a Cycle of Prayer was set up along with a prayer blog that enabled the members and parishes of the Common Cause Partners to pray for one another. It ran out just before the ACNA was founded and I missed it so several years ago while serving as Vicar of St. Thomas Church in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I resurrected it and have continued to produce it periodically. Here is the latest installment.

Of Grand Juries and Ham Sandwiches

Having been a political junkie from an early age I registered to vote literally before my 18th Birthday (I turned 18 in an election year and South Carolina law permits 17 year-olds to vote in primaries for elections if they will be 18 by election day) and I have voted in every general and primary election since then with the possible exception of one primary (the absentee ballot may or may not have gotten to me at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in time), updating my address as I moved. Juries are culled from voter registration lists and I had gotten called to jury duty in South Carolina while a cadet at Georgia Military College and when I called the Clerk of Court's office to let them know I was going to school out of state they told me that I might be called that summer, but I wasn't;for twenty years I wondered why I somehow missed jury duty until a fateful night in early January 2009 when I received a summons to jury duty and a questionnaire related to the same, which I promptly returned.

I had people ask if I would be reporting in clericals and I told them that I would not. I don't try to trade on the collar in that way if, for instance, I go to traffic court and I wasn't about to start then so I reported for duty wearing a bow tie and a blazer. I figured that I didn't stand much of a chance of getting selected because  when I was asked what my occupation is and I said "priest" that the prosecution would rapidly strike me assuming that I'd be a bleeding heart; if I survived that I guessed that the defense would do the same when I answered the fairly standard question of whether or not I had any close associations with law enforcement officers by telling them that I was a Chaplain for the Sheriff's Department, presuming that I has biased toward law enforcement. When I arrived at the Courthouse I learned that after twenty years of no jury duty I'd made up for it big time by getting the jury duty that lasts a year (with an option to get extended for a second year), namely service on the grand jury. Furthermore the only questions that I was asked were those that I'd already answered on the questionnaire; when I was the first name drawn the die was cast.

And so it was that for the next twelve months (I didn't get picked up for a second year) I and roughly 18 of my fellow citizens reported to the courthouse monthly to deliberate and vote true bill or no bill on a large docket of cases (I would guess an average of 100 per month) for the princely sum of $10 a day (fortunately the hospice for which I served as a chaplain at the time paid me for jury duty, but employers are not required to do that, so it represented a real sacrifice for some of the jurors). I would guess that I was one of maybe two or three people with a bachelor's degree and am fairly certain that I was the only juror with a graduate degree. I can honestly say that we discharged our duty faithfully with a few of us recusing ourselves from time to time (I myself did I think three times, a couple of times because it was dealing with cases that I'd encountered while riding along with deputies [as I was instructed to do] and one other time that I realized the person charged was related to a hospice patient for whom I'd cared; at least one lady did so because the person being voted on was her ex-husband). As I recall I voted "no bill" a couple of times and we as a grand jury voted "no bill" a couple of times when more information was needed -- after it was clarified we voted "true bill."

I've thought back on that year quite a bit over the past few days in light of the decision and subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Many people, including some friends of mine have suggested that the grand jurors didn't do their duty by not automatically vote to indict and send it to a "real jury" so that a "real trial" could take place. Such comments betray an ignorance of how our criminal justice system works. A grand jury is in fact a real jury, and it plays an important role in safeguarding our liberties and the notion that it only exists to rubber stamp whatever charges are leveled at citizens by the state is a dangerous one. I have a degree in criminal justice and within the first 15 minutes of the first criminal justice class that I ever took it was drilled into us that our criminal justice system is based upon discretion at all levels and the grand jury is one of those levels. Grand juries protect citizens from unjust charges and if they don't do their duty -- as some are suggesting that the St. Louis County grand jury shouldn't have done by merely rubber stamping the indictment and allowing a trial to take place for a crime that they didn't have probably cause to believe had been committed in pursuit of, ironically, justice, then some of the protections that we enjoy under the Constitution have been eroded. 

But aren't grand jury indictments so easy to obtain that you could indict a ham sandwich? Not really, and they're certainly not supposed to be. I'll grant that the process is weighted in favor of the prosecution but that doesn't mean that just anything can be slipped by a grand jury and it certainly doesn't mean that it should. The overwhelming majority of the cases result in a vote of "true bill," but in the majority of cases the information presented more than met the standard of probable cause. After reviewing the facts of the case in the shooting of Michael Brown in  excruciating detail (three autopsies and numerous witnesses) the St. Louis County grand jury determined that probable cause did not exist to believe that Officer Wilson violated the law in exercising deadly force (I'll not comment on the specifics of the case but would commend this article form a law enforcement site that goes into great detail).

Is there racial injustice in the United States in 2014? Yes, I'm sure that there is in places, but progress toward eradicating it is not made by looting and rioting, nor is it made by trying to short-circuit the process and make someone stand trial for a crime that they are not adjudged to commit for the sake of atoning for sins that the person did not specifically commit (if one goes down that road it is a very short trip to convicting people of crimes that they didn't commit to appease an angry mob... seems I recall a case similar to that somewhere). In point of fact grand juries are one of the safeguards that protect the rights of individual citizens and should be respected as such.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Follow Up to "Why I Will No Longer Sign Charleston County Marriage Licenses"

N.B. The Most Rev'd Dr. Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, has written his clergy and laity asking that we refrain from signing The Marriage Pledge  at this time until prayerful deliberation may take place. Out of respect for my godly Archbishop's request I have written First Things Dr. Radner, and Canon Seitz and asked that my name be removed at this time.

My post of 8 October regarding why I won't sign marriage licenses in Charleston County, where my current parish, The Church of the Atonement, is located has gotten more hits than anything I've ever posted here and was reprinted by The Aquila Report and has received circulation elsewhere. I don't necessarily think that anything that I wrote there was profound but it was the thoughts of one parish priest as I tried to sort out how to respond to the unilateral actions of a local judge.

Earlier today two women were united in legal "marriage" after being granted a license by Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon, a Republican, by the way. This was further unilateral action by the Judge as a stay had been granted on the granting of same-sex marriage licenses until noon tomorrow in South Carolina at the request of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson; later in the day that stay was lifted but that was done so after Judge Condon unilaterally violated the very Constitution that he took an oath to uphold. Barring further action, it appears that same-sex "marriage" licenses will be granted across South Carolina beginning at noon tomorrow, and, as a result, my days of signing South Carolina marriage licenses will be over.

Two Episcopal priests who are members of the faculty at Wycliffe College, Toronto, have produced The Marriage Pledge, taking essentially the same action that I announced in my blog post. I've signed it and would encourage other members of the clergy to consider doing so as this is an issue that isn't going to go away. 


I would encourage Christians, ordained or lay, to consider signing the Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience which deals with a number of crucial issues for the times in which we live. I was signatory number 4177 a couple of days after it was released in 2009 and it now has more than a half-million signatories.

Finally, for those in South Carolina who support General Wilson's efforts to uphold the Constitution of South Carolina and an Amendment that received the support of 96% of the Legislature and 78% of the voters, please sign Palmetto Family's petition to that effect.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Does Anybody Really Know What an Anglican Is? Does Anybody Really Care? (with apologies to Chicago)

     Since beginning his papacy some 18 months ago, Pope Francis has gained a reputation for lively interviews that are sometimes occasions for misinterpretation. Some of that can be attributed to factors of language – although conversant in Latin, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, English, Ukrainian, with some understanding of Piedmontese and some Genoese in addition to his native Spanish, there seems to have been some misunderstanding on the part of certain reporters, some of whom may have been seeking to hear the Pontiff say things he may not have intended to say.

     The Most Rev'd and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, the current Archbishop ofCanterbury, didn't have that language barrier recently when he gave an interview to the Rev'd Canon Ian Ellis, Editor of TheChurch of Ireland Gazette. In the interview, the Archbishop, a graduate of Eton, Cambridge, and St. John's College, Durham, was asked about the standing of the Anglican Church in North America and answered that the ACNA was not a member of the Anglican Communion but are viewed as an ecumenical partner, with whom as with all ecumenical partners reconciliation is sought. When asked about his appointment earlier this year of the Rev'd Dr. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, a parish that had left the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia some seven years ago who had also personally left The Episcopal Church, as one of the Six Preachers of Canterbury Cathedral (a designation dating back to 1541) – an appointment seen by many as validation for the ACNA – the Archbishop said that Dr. Baucum's prior status as a priest in The Episcopal Church was the basis for his appointment.

     While he didn't explicitly so phrase it, the Archbishop's comments were taken by many to mean that the ACNA is un-Anglican. Indeed, in an online exchange with the Episcopal Bishop of Springfield – one of the more conservative bishops still in The Episcopal Church – this author, noting that he had been ordained a deacon in October 2001 by the late Rt. Rev'd James West, a bishop in apostolic succession, ordained a priest in August 2003 by Bishop West and the Rt. Rev'd Dr. C. FitzSimons Allison, XII Bishop of South Carolina, also in apostolic succession, and a number of other presbyters, unreservedly believes, subscribes to, and teaches in accordance with the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, endeavors to pray the Daily Offices from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer daily, and celebrates Holy Communion at least weekly using the Book of Common Prayer asked if he is an Anglican. The Bishop allowed that the author is faithful Christian and validly ordained priest but did not consider him an Anglican. When asked if the author is misrepresenting himself by answering the he is an Anglican priest when people ask him what kind of clergyman he is, the Bishop declined to give an answer.

     But then a funny thing happened in Atlanta. On the evening of October 9, the Most Rev'd Dr. Foley Beach, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the South, was invested as the second Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America in a service held at the Church of the Apostles in Georgia's capitol city. In attendance were a number of bishops including the Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Archbishop and Primate of Kenya, the Archbishop, Primate, and Metropolitan of All Nigeria, the Archbishop and Primate of Uganda, the Archbishop and Primate of Rwanda, the Archbishop of Myanmar, and the Archbishop of the SouthernCone – representing among them more than two-thirds of the Anglican Communion. While praying over Archbishop Beach the primates went off script and received him as an Archbishop and Primate in the Anglican Communion. They also followed it up with a written statement similarly clarifying their understanding and intent as to what they had done, namely, receiving and recognizing Archbishop Beach as a fellow Primate in the Anglican Communion. This is of interest to those in the Diocese of South Carolina – at this time not a part of the ACNA – because those same Primates have repeatedly stated that they consider the Rt. Rev'd Mark Joseph Lawrence to be the Bishop of South Carolina.

     Clearly those Primates consider some to be Anglican whom the Archbishop of Canterbury may not yet be ready to so acknowledge. Hopefully he will reconsider where the mind of the Communion is if he wishes to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion. Whether he will do so remains to be seen.