Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Bishop-Elect Forrester

It's time to "out" myself regarding the candidacy of Father Kevin Thew Forrester to be the next bishop of Northern Michigan.

Several folks in the rightwing-nutosphere have tried to bash Father Forrester's connection with Buddhism. I have absolutely no problem with Forrester's practice of Buddhist meditation. Many reasonable, spiritual people (including Mark Harris) have recognized that Buddhist meditation can help us in our spiritual discipline. Even the venerable Thomas Merton employed Buddhist meditation. Father Thomas Keating's "centering prayer" derives from the same tradition, and I find it a marvelous way to sit quietly in the presence of God. Faithful Christians have employed a great many methods of prayer and meditation. So this is a non-starter.

Nor do I have a problem with the selection process in Northern Michigan. I'm not sure I like it. It was certainly "novel." I've heard from some people who have challenged the process. But I'm willing to give dioceses latitude in how they shape their processes. You can find some background on the process here from ENS.

My problem comes from reading Fr. Forrester's sermons and liturgies. I believe he has wandered far from what I can recognize as Christianity. He systematically omits the Nicene Creed from his liturgies. He plays fast and loose with our Prayer Book language, inventing his own liturgies. I do not recognize the "Eucharists" he celebrates. When I read the baptismal liturgy he crafted, it made me want to run shrieking from the room. I can't even see this man being a priest in good standing, much less a bishop in our church.

I know there has been a vacancy in the episcopate in Northern Michigan since Jim Kelsey's tragic death. I wonder if Father Forrester might have suffered from the lack of a bishop and chief pastor during these very long months.

I believe the bishops and Standing Committees should withhold consent to Father Forrester's election. I have expressed my views to my bishop and will shortly send this link to our Standing Committee ... in case they are interested. I do hope we Episcopalians/Anglicans can continue to inhabit "the roomiest church in all christendom." But I don't see evidence that Father Forrester lives in that same room.

I expect this will alienate many of my liberal/progressive friends -- perhaps including some of you. But it's where I am, and I don't want to linger in this closet any longer.

I can't tell you how much it grieves me to come down on the same "side" as the reactionary pit-bulls like StandFirm and other right-wing nuts on this matter.

If we are to insist that our clergy conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this church, then I believe we have to apply the same standard across the board. I believe we have to use the same measure with Father Forrester as we did with former bishops Duncan, Iker, and Schofield and other schismatics in the priesthood. The latter departed from the discipline of TEC. It appears to me that Father Forrester has departed from the doctrine and worship of TEC.

This gives me no pleasure. The people of Northern Michigan have suffered and struggled since Bishop Kelsey's death, and I regret that a "no" decision may cause them still further struggles. But I believe a "no" vote will be the correct decision in this matter and the correct decision for the Episcopal Church.

Postscript: I have no idea how the bishops and Standing Committees will finally vote on Father Forrester's consent. But I do observe that some progressive/liberal and gay-friendly bishops have announced they are voting "no" to Forrester's consecration. This gives the lie to the myth that TEC is an "anything-goes" church. Several bishops have seen a line beyond which they are not willing to go. They include bishops Briedenthal (Southern Ohio), Gulick (Kentucky), and Marshall (Bethlehem).

I may update this post if other bishops and Standing Committees make their decisions public.


Addenda (8 April):

I have made a few minor revisions in this essay. The changes are in tone, not substance. The exchange of comments with JCF last night makes me realize I might need to say more "it seems to me" than "I believe" statements, for I recognize that I may be completely wrong. I trust our bishops and Standing Committees to engage the question thoughtfully and prayerfully.

One of the many fine thinkers and bloggers around the Episcopal Church these days is Mark Harris. He has been following the Forrester+ story since the election was announced on February 21st. If you click here, you can see all the pieces he has written. Mark doesn't even own tar and feathers; I gather he hasn't made up his mind about Forrester, but he's gathering information and asking question, and I think that's all to the good.

Of course, our friends (including Ann!) at Episcopal Café continue to do a fine job of keeping us up-to-date on this episcopal election, as well as all other things Episcopal and Anglican. Clicking on this link will give you a Google search of their writings on Father Forrester.


Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

I think my problem with Forrester is that we simply are a liturgical church, and one person shouldn't change entire chunks of liturgy by personal fiat.

Don't get me wrong. Every parish has done the "occasional liturgical irregular thing." But the BCP exists so we have a major degree of uniformity, and when we do make changes to the BCP, it is slow and overly careful BECAUSE THE LITURGY MEANS SOMETHING to people who worship liturgically.

It is not one person's privilege to revamp the liturgy. Period.

4/07/2009 11:03 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

That's my problem, too, Kirk. None of us can change the Prayer Book or liturgy. I struggle with some parts of the Creed. But I don't elevate my questions to a Holy Mystery.

I suspect you are right: that all parishes have occasionally diverged from the BCP & rubrics for strong pastoral reasons. But (as I hear you saying) that should be the exception, not the norm.

I'm with you all the way, KirkE.

4/07/2009 11:51 PM  
Blogger Göran Koch-Swahne said...

RE the process...

Isn't what happened TWICE in South Carolina essentially the same thing?

Electing their only favourite...

4/08/2009 12:50 AM  
Blogger JCF said...

Two questions:

1) Would Bishop-Elect Forrester's promise to conform to the liturgy of the BCP, pp. 510-523 (noting the Examination pp.517-20) make any difference?

2) re "Fr. Forrester's sermons and liturgies": how came you upon them? Directed to them by Fr. Forrester? Directed to them by opponents of his consecration? Completely independent research? (Some other way?)

You're entitled to your opinion, of course Lisa. I will stand by what the total of Standing Committees decide (to confirm or reject).

But I'm troubled, nonetheless.

"Sermons and liturgies" (especially if by any way OTHER than at the candidate's direction, "Judge me on these"): could ANY bishop pass such muster?

Clarence Darrow famously said "As long as there is a criminal class, I am of it."

...and I guess as long as there is a "heretical class", I am of it, too.

4/08/2009 1:10 AM  
Blogger JCF said...

There's also this:

This gives the lie to the myth that TEC is an "anything-goes" church.

Is that WHY (+)Forrester should be refused episcopal confirmation? To prove a point?

Because that seems a whole lot like scape-goating to me (the same noxious thing that B-033 did---y'know re our "manner of life", Lisa).

I guess I'm troubled enough by your sentiments, Lisa ("expressed my views to my bishop and will shortly send this link to our Standing Committee", no less: I confess, I have not done the same to mine, since my sentiments are merely "I haven't seen convincing reasons to NOT confirm KTH") that, to borrow a phrase, This. Just. Won't. Go. Away. [RIP to Lee, whom apparently I'm the only Episcopalian in the blogiverse to have missed virtually knowing him]

4/08/2009 1:32 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I suppose one could say the process in SC and N.Michigan were both eccentric. But why strangle on a gnat when there's a camel one just cannot swallow?

You're a theologican, Göran. Just look at Forrester's theology.

4/08/2009 1:32 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JCF, you asked: Would Bishop-Elect Forrester's promise to conform to the liturgy of the BCP, pp. 510-523 (noting the Examination pp.517-20) make any difference?

Not very much at this point. From what I've read, he redefines words to mean what he wants them to mean. So, sadly, I must say I would not much trust his oath of conformity.

4/08/2009 1:35 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JCF asked: re "Fr. Forrester's sermons and liturgies": how came you upon them? Directed to them by Fr. Forrester? Directed to them by opponents of his consecration? Completely independent research? (Some other way?)

I found his sermons and liturgies on his website (before he took them offline) from some bishops and laypersons. I read the primary sources, JCF, not the secondary "spin" about them.

I admire some clergy people and lay people who push the edges. But Father Forrester seems to be working in another vineyard altogether. As Mark Harris said, he may be a Christian and a mystic. But I don't see him "guarding the faith" as a bishop is called to do.

4/08/2009 1:40 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JCF said: and I guess as long as there is a "heretical class", I am of it, too.

I may be guilty of a heresy of two, too, JCF. But I'm not standing for consideration as a bishop. Further, I would draw a line between core beliefs (such as the divinity of Jesus) and adiaphora. It's the former that troubles me about Father Forrester.

4/08/2009 1:45 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JCF asked: Is that WHY (+)Forrester should be refused episcopal confirmation? To prove a point?

Certainly not! I am not sure whether his beliefs conform to Nicene Christianity. But it's pretty clear that he has played fast and loose with our Prayer Book, our creeds, and the norms of our church. That leads me to doubt whether he can be a guardian of the faith -- even of our generously broad Episcopalian Christian faith.

I am not calling into question whether he is a Christian. But his version of Christianity is not one I can recognize as falling within the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of this church" -- the same standard we've used in other crucial determinations.

It is merely ancillary that this conclusion demonstrates that I'm not an "anything goes" Christian/Episcopalian.

Frankly, I'm surprised to reach this conclusion about Father Forrester. I'm pretty broad-minded. My thoughts about his candidacy have helped me refine what is "core" for me and what is adiaphora.

BTW, re: your concern -- It is not at all unusual for me to express my views to my bishop and our Standing Committee. I know them by name, and they're accustomed to hearing from me about issues related to the national church. Speaking to them about Father Forrester is not at all anomalous.

I don't understand your gratuitous comment about Lee, but it suggests you feel more strongly about Father Forrester than I realized.

4/08/2009 2:04 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

Here is Bishop Rusty Kimsey's response.

4/08/2009 9:44 AM  
Blogger LKT said...

Kudos to you for doing the research and making up your own mind rather than voting the party line. That kind of integrity is worth more than gold.

I hope you have a lovely Holy Week.


4/08/2009 10:55 AM  
Blogger Cany said...

I'm still chewing on this, personally.

4/08/2009 4:52 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for that link, Ann. It also sent me searching, and I found this earlier letter from Bishop Kimsey. These are important statements for our bishops and standing committees to consider.

4/08/2009 6:30 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Laura. This was a difficult piece for me to write, as I recognize it will set me in opposition to some dear friends and colleagues. But I hope we can differ about this without breaking relationships.

As I wrote in an "addendum" today, I trust that the prayerful discernment of bishops and standing committees will lead to a right decision. And I'll accept that decision, no matter what it is. Let us offer this to the Holy Spirit's guidance.

4/08/2009 6:33 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

That makes sense, Cany. It's a tough one. I hope everyone will do their own research, deliberation, prayer, and decision-making.

4/08/2009 6:34 PM  
Blogger Scott Gunn said...

Lisa, I'm glad I don't have to vote on this. I'd have trouble, but ultimately I think I'd vote "no" to consent as well -- for many of the same reasons you cite. Some Zen meditation? OK. Unusual process? Not a reason to say no. Failure to conform to the BCP? Can't agree to that. Major departure from Nicene Christianity? Not a good fit with the episcopal office.

Hmm. Maybe I should blog this so that it's clear that not all "liberals" are in the anything-is-OK camp.


4/08/2009 9:36 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...


I just checked in here and saw this, and I agree with you. I don't think he can teach such as a public leader in our roomy church.

I too read some of Fr. Thew Forrester's sermons. I found them very troubling. With Fr. Gunn, I have to say that what I read in it's departures from the central rites (baptism and eucharist) as we have them in our BCP and in a non-Nicene Christology left me deeply troubled. As a layman, I could not give my "Axios" or "Amen". Nicene Christianity as articulated in our BCP is vital for my understanding of who God is and is for us, and these are deeply articulated in our rites of baptism and eucharist.

I love Thomas Merton, and so, Zen practice in and of itself does not disturb me. It's related very much to Fr. Keatings use of the Cloud of Unknowing. Nonetheless, in reading Fr. Thew Forrester's writings/preachings, it seems to me that Zen thought has so thoroughly influenced his christology that Atonement disappears altogether as does a notion of sin and an understanding that we are in communion with and can realize union with God because Jesus Christ has overcome our estrangement and alienation (sin). It's a revealer, teacher Jesus that shows us how things already are, rather than reconciling what had been estranged. St Irenaeus refuted such christologies 1800 years ago as not consistent with the apostolic faith.

It seems to me that I have seen concern expressed from folks all along the spectrum (from Canon Harmon to Fr. Jones to Mr. Derek Olsen to Fr. Haller to Fr. Carroll to yourself to myself to two liturgist-theologian bishops I greatly admire, Bps. Breidenthal and Marshall) on other matters, indeed, a coalescence that asks what of our core as expressed in the Creeds? What of our roomy Quadrilateral?

I noted at the Anglican centrist that I have serious problems with Bp. Kimsey's letter:

I am troubled that it is a problem for bishops, as well as the entire Church, to raise doctrinal questions when an episcopal candidate is presented who does not seem to adequately articulate the faith once delivered. And indeed, articulates an understanding that seems at odds with our core to the point of willingly and willfully changing our central rites (Baptism and Eucharist). It is the responsibility of our bishops to raise these questions. And it is the responsibility of every Episcopalian, ordained and lay alike, to do the same. As a layman, I withhold my "Amen!" and "Axios!"

Certainly, St Irenaeus is big on my list of companion theologians. However, what Bp. Kinsey seems to miss is that many of us do not find in Fr. Thew Forrester's sermons, writings, or liturgies this "through Christ" aspect. Only through, with, and in Christ is communion and union with God possible because alienation and estrangement are in Him overcome. That Hinge seems weak in places, and missing in others. In what I have read, it seems more that Christ reveals that if we take the scales off our eyes, throw out illuion, and get a clue, we can realize our already union with God. This is sin as lack of knowledge, rather than sin as alienation. It is more gnostic, than orthodox.

I would suggest that were Fr. Thew Forrester more familiar with St Nazianzus, Rahner, or Maurice in our own tradition, he would find powerful affirmations of that union and communion that are nonetheless orthodox because it is through, with, and in Jesus Christ who has overcome...

4/08/2009 11:06 PM  
Blogger JCF said...

[And I promised myself I wasn't going to say anymore here :-X]

From what I've read, he redefines words to mean what he wants them to mean. So, sadly, I must say I would not much trust his oath of conformity.


Lisa, do you not realize that that is almost WORD FOR FREAKIN' WORD what a Matt Kennedy or a "RobRoy" or an "Allen" says?! Constantly?

"You liberals redefines words to mean what [you] want them to mean."

NONE of us can look into each other's hearts. NONE of us.

Only God.

Once we go down the "you redefine words" route, we're totally tripping down the well-intentioned path to HELL.

I can't go there.
I hope the Standing Committees don't, either.

By all means: questions of "reassurance" were put to Mark Lawrence.

If some feel it necessary to put them to KTH, then do so.

But let them be Yes/No questions.

And *IF* he answers a (canonical) "Yes" then PLEASE, let that be the END of the "Are you Really-Really-Really-Truly-Truly-Truly Part of Our Club?" inquest (because it proceeds BEYOND that, then "inquisition" WILL, well and truly, be the name for it).

4/09/2009 12:37 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...


I'm going to call some baloney here. What of these words? Sounds more like Valentinus than St Irenaeus to me.

In his own words:

"I would ask us to explore that Jesus does not make us one with God. Jesus reveals, and this is incredible mystery, incredible good news—Jesus reveals to us, and it is why we say that he is the Messiah, he is an anointed one, he reveals to us that we are already at one with God - and why? Because God is always at one with us."

Simply because Lisa or I or others may be considered on the left with regard to same-sex unions or the ordination of women, does not necessarily make us so on Creed or Prayer Book.

Lumping us together as a way to tell us we can't voice a theological criticism of our own is a logical fallacy. It's guilt by associationism.

Does that mean God doesn't love Fr. Thew Forrester or that he's going to hell. No. But his christology is inadequate for being a bishop in this Church that affirms the Creeds through it's assignation to the Quadrilateral--indeed, it was our Church that promoted the Quadrilateral in the first place. Fr. Thew Forrester's christology falls far short of that reserved minimum.

Your words and those of others prove my point that "inclusivism" is an inadequate way to frame both dogmatic and ascetical/moral theological questions in our tradition.

4/09/2009 12:51 AM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/09/2009 1:44 AM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

On behalf of the good Christians of North Michigan who emailed me in confidence on this matter, I thank you for your brave statement, Lisa. Our people are nice people and always look for the good in everybody. That is how it should be. But there are also times when, for our own sake, we should be a bit more careful and not automatically endorse something just because it is innovative and/or challenging. We are just as much the guardians of the faith handed down as those who rabidly insist that only they are.

4/09/2009 1:45 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Gosh, you all had some good conversation here after I went to bed last night. Thank you for the thoughtful comments.

Scott & Christopher: You're both smarter and more articulate than I on matters theological. Thanks for going more deeply into this and explicating some of the concerns I was trying to express.

JCF, I used that phrase because his writings do suggest he uses words like "Jesus" and "salvation" in ways that don't mean what I think they generally mean to Nicene Christians.

MadPriest, many thanks for visiting here. You are right; it is hard to break away from the herd. I am sad to question Father Forrester's fitness for the episcopate.

Now ... off to work I go. Back this evening.

4/09/2009 7:18 AM  
Blogger Priscilla said...

Lisa, I have deep respect for you, your opinions, and your willingness to honestly engage in this (and many other) conversations. A blessing upon you.

I am agnostic about this appointment at this time, having read pretty much everything you have linked to or pointed out in your post. My own beliefs and views align with Fr. Forrester's in some ways and diverge in others.

My remaining questions arising from all the discussions and which would help me decide are these:

If Fr. Forrester is unfit to be a bishop due to his unorthodox theology, why should he be allowed to remain in holy orders at all?

If his theology is that far apart from the accepted minimum required for the episcopate then shouldn't there be an inquiry into removing him from a leadership position/the priesthood altogether? Or is it OK to be a "heretical" priest but not a "heretical" bishop?

If beings a Nicene Christian is the test for being in Holy Orders as an Anglican and we are using this test of orthodoxy to cull the herd of our teachers and leaders, so to speak, then shouldn't we seriously consider some resolutions for the upcoming GC that make this canon law and clarify what we will and won't accept from the pulpit and the bishop's chair to eliminate the possibility of this happening again?

If Rev. Forrester's Christology is the main sticking point for denying him consent then do we now start to examine others who share and promulgate his theological take on atonement and weed them out as well?

I am NOT trying to be snarky with these questions but rather trying to follow them to their logical conclusion in my own mind. I apologize if I have worded them any other way.

I think that may be why this issue is bringing out vehement responses from people -- those who identify with Rev. Forrester feel as if their own Christianity and membership is being called into question by proxy and those who find his views exotic and innovative beyond acceptability are finding themselves in strange company with the ultra-orthodox.

Are we saying that those who share Rev. Forrester's Christology and theology need to look elsewhere for episcopal guidance in our church or perhaps even find another denomination altogether?

Or is it just that we don't want episcopal (and priestly?) leaders to promulgate these views but those who sit in the pews and share them are welcome to stay?

This is clearly a conversation that needs to take place and I thank you for bringing it out in the open. Our church is undergoing swift and confusing changes at a rapid pace and it is easy to become overwhelmed. Your views are more helpful to me in clarifying my own stance than all that has gone before.

4/09/2009 9:04 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JCF, I’ve had a little more time to ponder your question: Would Bishop-Elect Forrester's promise to conform to the liturgy of the BCP, pp. 510-523 (noting the Examination pp.517-20) make any difference?

I’m not at all happy with the too-hasty responses I made here and here.

Let me try once more. It’s pretty clear from the online record that he has diverged fairly significantly from the liturgy of the BCP. At this point, I think I’d like to hear him repent of those departures and/or explain them … and then promise to adhere to the theology of the BCP (and to most of its words and rubrics) in future. That would do it for me.

4/09/2009 8:44 PM  
Blogger Göran Koch-Swahne said...

"You're a theologican, Göran. Just look at Forrester's theology."

It's odd, I admit that. And the process...

4/10/2009 2:12 AM  
Blogger Göran Koch-Swahne said...

But I'm not the one to say if this is sufficient. Only TEC may do that.

But I heartily despise what the Viagra crowd are doing.

4/10/2009 2:14 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

So do I, Göran.

4/10/2009 6:59 AM  

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