Rally around the Centre: Reclaiming the old Quadrilateral


UnknownIn 1870, less than five years since the end of the American Civil War, William Reed Huntinton, then rector of All Saints Church, Worcester, Massachusetts, wrote a treatise entitled: The Church Idea, an Essay toward Unity. In his essay, Huntington argued that just as the Union forces had needed a “definite and tangible centre, around which to rally” so too the churches of Christendom, at least those that claimed some element of catholicity and did not exist as some separatist sect, also needed to identify what the core of their faith was.


He writes:

“…whenever any social organization has become dispersed, or thrown into solution there is needed for its re-collection a firm core or nucleus about which the returning parts may group themselves.”


Huntington, as an Episcopal priest, set out to identify what the core principles of the Anglican Church are, in the hope that other churches would rally around those shared principles.


He continues:

When it is proposed to make Anglicanism the basis of a Church of Reconciliation, it is above all things necessary to determine what Anglicanism pure and simple is. The word brings up before the eyes of some a flutter of surplices, a vision of village spires and cathedral towers, a somewhat stiff and stately company of deans, prebendaries and choristers, and that is about all. But we greatly mistake if we imagine that the Anglican principle has no substantial existence apart from these accessories. Indeed it is only when we have stripped Anglicanism of the picturesque costume which English life has thrown around it, that we can fairly study its anatomy, or understand its possibilities of power and adaptation.


Huntington goes on to describe what he discerns to be the four principles of the Anglican Church, or as he also calls it the “’quadrilateral’ of pure Anglicanism”:


  1. The Holy Scripture as the Word of God: “How far and in what precise manner the divine and the human elements coexist there, it is idle to surmise…it is enough to know that in a sense peculiar and unique, differencing it from all other books, the Bible is God’s word or message to us.”
  2. The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith: Huntington argues that the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, both being from antiquity and representing the faith of the undivided church, ought to be the sufficient summation of Christian belief: “Certainly we who stand within the pale ought to be thankful for a Creed which enunciates the central truth of our religion with a distinctness and emphasis that fifteen hundred years of controversy have not sufficed to blur.”
  3. The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself: “the Two Sacraments of Christ’s appointment image forth to the eye His two all-comprehensive sayings, ‘come unto me’, ‘abide in me.’ The one is the Sacrament of Approach, the other is the Sacrament of Continuance. Baptism answers to the grafting of the branch; Holy Communion to the influx of the nourishing juices that keep the graft alive.”
  4. The Episcopate as the Key-stone of Governmental Unity: “There exists a form of Church polity which can be traced back, century after century, until we come to the very confines of the Apostolical age. A characteristic feature of this polity is headship. The name of it is the Episcopate.”


Huntington’s proposal was transformed into a resolution from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (passed in Chicago in 1886), stating that unity with Christians of different communions would be sought based on those principles. Two years later, in what was only the third international gathering of Anglican bishops (the 1888 Lambeth Conference), the bishops approved the same four principles stating that they supplied “a basis by which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards home reunion.”


These four principles have since become known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and they can be found printed on pages 876 and 877 in the back of the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. I think that it is a great pity, that in the life of our Anglican Communion at least, that is where they seem to stay.


During the past couple of weeks, as I have been watching the Anglican churches wrestling publicly with each other, I have wondered to myself: “Whatever happened to the Quadrilateral?” Are we unwilling to show our fellow Anglicans the same grace and latitude that we have in the past proclaimed that we are willing to show to any church? Have we lost all perspective as to what are the core principles of our church and now seem intent on dividing over issues that in the history of the Church, never rose to the level of core doctrine?


How is it possible that the Episcopal Church’s change to its canon on marriage is a greater threat to Anglican unity than the Columba Declaration (which is an agreement between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland that would allow Presbyterian clergy, which do not have the Episcopate, to serve in Anglican churches)? Or how is it possible that a gay bishop can create a more significant division in the Anglican Communion than bishops that openly and publicly denounce elements of the creed?


Perhaps the solution to our disunion within the Anglican Communion is the same solution that Father Huntington saw to disunion within Catholic Christendom: a deep understanding and commitment to our core principles and the ability to accept diversity in everything else. We need to renew our focus on what unites us, not what divides us. Maybe it is time to dust off the old Quadrilateral and start using it among ourselves.


Fr. Huntington concludes:

The first step toward finding a remedy for our ailments is to acknowledge that we are sick. Christendom, with a very querulous voice, is beginning to do just this. Then there is still further encouragement in the fact that all over the world religious thought is concentrating itself more and more every day upon the Person of our blessed Lord. Believers and unbelievers are alike agitated with the question, What think ye of Christ? This is a sure precursor of renewed efforts after unity. The more clearly our holy religion is seen to have its centre in Him whose name it bears, the more will those who love him in sincerity feel that the Church must be one.

The full text of William Reed Huntington’s essay can be found here.

Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus


Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2016.

Reading: John 2:1-11

When people talk about the story of the wedding at Cana they usually focus on one of two things: the wedding or the wine.

Well I am here to tell you that those things don’t interest me very much in this morning’s gospel.

Despite the fact that our marriage service in the Episcopal Church tries to extract great meaning from our Lord’s presence at a wedding, the truth is, it is just a simple detail of where Jesus happens to be. The gospel writer doesn’t spend much time explaining it; we shouldn’t either. The wedding doesn’t interest me.

The fact that Jesus can turn water into wine doesn’t interest me much either. As a believer in miracles, as a believer in the Incarnation and Resurrection, I believe that Jesus is one with the creator of the universe. To quote the beginning of John’s gospel: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” I believe that Jesus can turn death into life, so it really comes as no surprise to me that he can turn water into wine. The wine, frankly, doesn’t interest me.

What does interest me greatly about this morning’s gospel and our Lord’s first miracle in Cana is how it comes about. I find it fascinating that the first person mentioned at the wedding is not our Lord himself, but his mother.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galillee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

Mary is the first person mentioned in the story. Mary is the first to learn that the wine has run out, though whether she observed it herself, or whether it was made known to her by the servants at the wedding seeking her assistance we don’t know. What we do know is that Mary’s response was to go to her son immediately and seek his help. Mary knew that her child was special. She might not have predicted how he would solve the problem, but she knew he would have the solution.

So Mary goes to Jesus and it is she who tells him that they have no wine.

Jesus’s response to her is puzzling: He says to her: “woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” Now that sounds rather harsh to us, but Jesus isn’t actually being rude to his mother. He is simply saying to her: but it’s not time yet. This is going to happen in God’s time.

Mary’s response is perfect. She doesn’t get angry or impatient with her son. She doesn’t box his years or yell at him. She doesn’t give up and try to fix the problem herself and she doesn’t lose faith in her son’s ability. She simply goes back to the servants, points back to her son and says: “do whatever he tells you.”

The relationship between Jesus and his mother in this morning’s gospel is of great interest to me, because it is the perfect example of what intercessory prayer is all about and because it clearly illustrates the role that Mary plays in our life of prayer.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental misunderstandings that many people have about the Catholic tradition is the belief that we pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We don’t actually (and when I say we, I refer to all catholic Christians Romans and Anglicans) we don’t actually address our prayers to the Virgin Mary, at least, not in the same way we pray to God or to Christ.

Listen to the words of the most famous prayer to the mother of Jesus, the Hail Mary:


Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus

Holy Mary, mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.


Pray for us sinners. Our request here is for Mary to pray for us. We aren’t requesting for her to change things for us, she doesn’t have the power to do that. What we are requesting is to be among her prayers. We are requesting for her to bring our needs to Jesus. It is the sort of thing that we do for each other all the time. We pray for our loved ones and we ask them to pray for us. That is what intercessory prayer is all about: petitioning God on behalf of someone else; acting as a mediator, serving as a bridge or connector between Jesus and someone that is in need. We do it for each other all the time, so why do people get so uncomfortable about asking the mother of Christ to do the same thing? or any other saint for that matter?

Surely we don’t see death, which our Lord conquered by his own death and resurrection as some barrier to prayer between those who have gone to glory and those who yet await it?

No. The prayers of the departed are just as valid, if not more so than the prayers of the living. If we are serious about prayer here, how much more so will we be when we get to the other side?

Mary is so important to the catholic tradition and such a fundamental part of our spirituality, because through her we have the first, and perhaps most perfect, example of what it means to be a faithful, prayerful Christian and what it means to connect people to Jesus.

Mary hears about a problem this morning and the first thing that she does it take it to Jesus. She makes sure that he knows that someone is in need. And when he doesn’t grant her request or seem to solve the problem instantly, she remains faithful. She makes the connection between the servants’ dilemma and the solution to their problems. She points them to Christ and says: follow him. Do what he says.

If we take our life of prayer seriously, if we believe in the power of prayer to change things, and if we feel called to intercede on behalf of others, then we have a lot to learn from Mary.

We need to learn to keep our eyes and ears open to the needs of people around us; to keep our hearts open to their pleas, to be moved with compassion toward them.

We need to learn first and foremost to carry those burdens straight to Jesus. Not to try to fix them ourselves first, not to try to carry the burden of the world’s suffering on our shoulders, but to take the world’s problems from the trivial to the monumental, straight to him.

We need to remember that ultimately he is the one that has the power, not us.

We need to learn that when our prayers and petitions are not answered in the way we want, or in our time, that we are called to be faithful, remembering that God’s time and our time are not the same.

Most importantly, we need to learn to keep pointing people back to Jesus; to encourage them to follow him; to listen to what he says, and to do it. In the end, our life of intercessory prayer should connect people to Jesus.

That is what Mary does in our life of prayer: she points us to Jesus. She isn’t worshiped, she is venerated; she is shown the greatest respect because she, as the mother of Christ, still has so much to teach us about him, and about what it means to follow him.

No the remarkable thing about this morning’s gospel isn’t the wedding or the wine; the remarkable thing is that here, even before Jesus has performed his first miracle, his mother is showing the faith that she has in him and is fulfilling her call of interceding for others and connecting them to him.

May we have the faith to do the same.


Turn then, most gracious advocate,

thine eyes of mercy towards us,

and after this our exile

show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Storm in a Teacup


If the Devil is good at anything, it is at distracting us from the things that really matter.

A remarkable thing was announced today in Canterbury. The Archbishop or Canterbury, Justin Welby, announced that representatives from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Coptic churches would be meeting in the next few years to discuss fixing one universal date for Easter. Currently Easter is a feast that moves according to the first full moon of Spring and it is usually celebrated at different times by churches in the East and in the West due to the use of different calendars. Fixing one date for Easter would heal a division that has existed in the church for over 1000 years. In fact, one of the first great divisions between Christians in England was between Roman and Celtic missionaries over the date of Easter. Now we are looking at the very real prospect that in 5-10 years the major branches of Christ’s Church will be celebrating his resurrection on the same day for the first time in many centuries.

This Is Huge.

This is a huge announcement, but unfortunately most people missed it because they were too distracted by all of the hype that has been generated around the issues of same sex marriage and whether or not the various Anglican churches, which disagree about this issue, can remain together. One astute reporter at today’s press conference asked the Archbishop to speak more about this (he was my hero for the day for doing that), but most other reporters just wanted to focus on the divisions and disagreements within the Anglican Communion.

On the one hand, we have deep disagreement between Christians about how to honor and serve the lives and relationships of Gays and Lesbians, something which has been a matter of debate for the past 30 years or so.

On the other hand, we have news of a potential agreement between the major Christian churches on settling a division that has existed for over 1000 years, and directly pertains to our proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Which one of these issues should really be getting the most press and attention?

Personally (traditionalist that I am when it comes to liturgy), the idea of setting one immovable date for Easter doesn’t thrill me, but it would be a small sacrifice to make for the possibility of having all Christians come together at the same time to proclaim with one voice the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That would be a liturgical change worth making. And while the divisions in our church over the issue of same sex marriage matters to me personally, I refuse to let that one division distract me from doing what I and the church are really called to do.

The take-away from this morning’s press conference, if you ignore all the distractions that the Devil tries to throw in the way, is that there really is always hope for Christians to overcome our divisions, no matter how old they are and no matter how deep they run. The key is of course to maintain perspective and to keep our attention on that which is of supreme importance: our proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

All the other drama is just a storm in a teacup.

We are all outsiders


Sermon preached at The Church of the Resurrection, New York

for The Feast of the Epiphany 2016


In the year 614AD, a Persian army invaded Palestine and in the course of its pillaging and plundering took possession of the two most important churches in all of Christendom: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Our Lord’s death and Resurrection, was quickly set fire to, but when the commander of the Persian army entered the church of the Nativity, so the story goes, he saw depicted there in mosaics that told the story of the Birth of Our Lord, three interesting figures: they were Magi (or wise men) that had come to honor this special child and what was most remarkable, they were dressed as Persians.


The commander of the Persian army realized then and there that whatever had happened on this spot, whatever had caused these people to build a shrine on this site, involved his people too. Here were his own people bringing gifts to this Jewish child. Whatever all of this was about, he might not have known, but what he did know was that he, as a Persian, had a place in this story.


So he ordered the building to be spared. And there it still stands today.


I love that story. It is hard, of course, to know just how much of the story is historical and how much is legendary, but that doesn’t really matter, because the truth in this story is about more than just one moment in time. The truth is this: that building survived because someone from the outside realized that the birth of Jesus Christ had significance for him too. He was an outsider, and yet, he was a part of the story.


I must admit I have always loved and been fascinated by those three wise men. The scriptures don’t give us very many details. Tradition may give us their names: Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, but not much else. So we are left to wonder: where might they be from? How might they have traveled? Would they have trekked on camelback down the king’s highway through exotic places like Petra? Could one have even travelled from even farther away India or Africa (perhaps riding an elephant as your nativity scene so beautifully depicts), or even China maybe? In the movies and in artistic depictions, the wise men are always in the most exotic and foreign dress and they are almost always depicted as being from different races. They are foreigners, they are outsiders, they have nothing to do with the race, religion or culture that Jesus is born into, and yet there they are right there at the heart of the story; there they are in almost every depiction of his birth.


The manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, or the Epiphany, which we celebrate this night is about more than commemorating one moment or episode in the life of Christ. It is about celebrating the truly miraculous fact that we, who are outsiders, are invited to participate in the life of Christ and the worship of God through him. It doesn’t matter what culture we are born into, what class we are born into, what race, what country…no matter how foreign we think we are, no matter how much of an outsider we may feel, there is still within Christ’s story, room for us.


The fact is: we are all of us outsiders here, or at least at some point we were. Nobody is ever born a Christian.


While it is true that many of you may not remember a time before you knew the church and its teachings, and that is a blessed thing I am sure, but you were not born into this religion. Nobody has a birthright to the grace offered through this holy child.


You can be born a Jew, you can be born a Muslim, but you cannot be born a Christian. To be a Christian you must convert. You must look at the story of the birth of Christ, and no matter how foreign or different you may feel, you must find yourself within it. You must realize that his birth, no matter how distant and far away it seems, has implications for your life.


Now your conversion may have taken place at a very early age. It is likely that many of you do not remember your baptisms, but that is of no importance. What is important is that at some point your parents or your Godparents wanted you to be a part of Christ’s story. Well done.


Still, no matter how faithful your parents were and no matter how much they wanted you to live a Christian life and to know the blessings of our Lord, you were the one who had to be converted. You were the one who had to be made part of the body of Christ through the waters of baptism. And whether you came to those waters early in your life or late, you must never forget that everyone begins their journey of faith as an outsider. The miracle that we celebrate here tonight, is that no one need remain an outsider.


This church was the first place that I ever encountered the tradition of blessing chalk on the Epiphany for the purpose of marking our doorposts with the year and initials of the three wise men. I am happy to say that in the past 10 years I have seen this practice increasing among churches and among the faithful, perhaps with a little help from social media. It is an excellent way for us to be reminded of our faith during our daily comings and goings and it is an invitation for our lord to bless our homes during the coming year, but I would put to you that this little symbol can be more than just a sign of blessing made in some mysterious code.


I would put to you that the symbol we mark on the outside of our doors with this chalk can be a reminder to us, that we, like those wise men, all began our journey on the outside, as foreigners to the household of God; as people, who through some miracle given by God and not through any merit of their own, have been given an invitation to enter and who have found themselves to be a part of this story.


Let that symbol remind us of all those who seek God and as yet have not found him. Let it remind us of all of the outsiders in our midst: the foreigners, the outcast, the unloved and the lonely. Let it remind us that just as we have found a place for ourselves within this story, that there is still room here for yet more. Indeed part of our charge as Christians is to help others cross that threshold; to find here a home for themselves as well; to find in Christ’s story a part of their own story.


In our world of countless distractions, it is a miracle that people still seek God at all. In the Magi, we have the model of the religious pilgrim: the journeyer, the seeker, the person who risks much, and leaves much behind in order to search for God. Perhaps the greatest gift that the Magi had to offer Jesus was their attention and devotion: the very fact that they sought him to begin with was undoubtedly worth more to Christ than the Gold, frankincense and myrrh. I imagine it is still so today: Christ honors those who seek him. We must honor those who seek him as well.


Our faith survives because people on the outside still realize that the birth of Christ has significance for them too. There is no reason in this world why the birth of a Jewish child in Palestine should be of any concern to wise men from Persia or anywhere else, and yet miraculously it was of concern. Great Concern. There is equally no reason why it should be of concern to us living some 2000 years later, and yet miraculously here we are, taking the time to end our celebration of his birth, by celebrating the moment that those on the outside realized just how significant it was, and were welcomed into the story.


This parish was founded 150 years ago as a mission to those who were on the outside. This neighborhood, was then outside the city limits, and its residents were at the time in no sense a part of New York City’s elite or genteel society. But the founders of this parish believed that the people that lived here were a part of Christ’s story as well, and thus the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (later the Church of the Resurrection) was begun. But despite the fact that this church has for quite some time now, been well within the city limits, it is still very much in the mission field. Outside of these doors are a vast multitude of souls that do not have the connection to Christ’s story that you have; that are disconnected from the traditions of his church and unaware of the spiritual witness of countless saints and sages, who were also born outside of Christ’s kingdom, and yet found a place for themselves within it. As we leave here tonight to hurry home and mark our doors with the symbol of the Magi, may we give thanks to God that we who were born outsiders have been reborn as a part of this story, may we give thanks for the witness of this parish, which exists to retell this story, and may we always remember those who are still on the outside, looking to get in.