Disenfranchising the Baptized

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

This past Saturday, March 12, the Diocese of Pennsylvania elected a new bishop from a slate of five nominees all of whom were well vetted and qualified. It took four ballots but from the outset the bishop-elect led in all of them. He clearly was the choice of the clergy and the lay delegates who in such elections must vote separately “by orders.” And to be elected the nominee must garner a majority of votes in both orders (clergy and laity) on the same ballot.

So what’s the problem? Certainly not the outcome nor the process. No, it is the voting math as prescribed by Pennsylvania’s peculiar diocesan canon which defines the lay vote as one vote per parish, not one vote per delegate. In this diocese all parishes, small and large, have two delegates, a kind of institutional egalitarianism that seems appropriate for Christian community. But is it in this case?

Let’s do the math. Remember all duly qualified clergy are entitled to vote and on the final ballot this meant 194 individual votes were cast. However, on the same ballot the lay votes totaled only 126. Why? Because that was the number of parishes present, not the total number of delegates. If multiplied by two, there were in fact around 252 baptized lay persons on hand but each had only a half vote with which to negotiate a choice for their parish’s preference. How egalitarian is that!

Truth be told it’s canonical clericalism. It values ordination over baptism. It disenfranchises the laity rather than empowering them. It’s like the early Constitution of our country: women, no vote; slaves, defined as three-fifths of a person. In the Episcopal Church whose membership is about ninety-nine percent laity this discrepancy in power and entitlement is unacceptable. Nothing in the Gospel can justify it.

If the first order of ministers in the church is the baptized laity, and not the ordained  clergy, then let that be consistently evident in its polity, practice and privileges. To be baptized is not a second class status in God’s commonwealth and Christ’s blessed community of disciples. Never.

The most powerful phrase in our language is ‘Thank you’

by Peyton G. Craighill

How many times a day do you say “thank you”? I’ve never counted, but it must be many times. Sometimes the act’s casual, and sometimes it’s heartfelt. I say “thank you” to the clerks at the supermarket when they count out my change – that’s casual. And I say “thank you” to my wife when she carefully picks out a birthday card for me and inscribes it with a loving thought – that’s heartfelt!

Whether casual or heartfelt – or somewhere in between – “thank you” always carries a message of bonding between you and the person to whom you say those words. It acknowledges a human act of kindness, however casual, that binds two people together. And in bonding them together, empowers them, however slightly or however much. In empowering the two people, the phrase give them a blessing.

Among people of faith who sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”, any blessing, however secular, comes from God. However remote from your thoughts, when you say “thank you” to a person, you are serving as God’s messenger, empowering that person with God’s love and God’s power!