Lay Anglicana is delighted to welcome the distinguished Dr Wendy Dackson as a regular contributor to this blog. She says:
I’m an ethnically Jewish American Episcopalian lay woman who was first baptised and confirmed in the Reformed Church of America, and holds a doctorate in theology from the very Jesuit Marquette University. I’ve written on a variety of topics in Anglican theology and presented at conferences in the US, UK and Belgium. I’ve taught theology, religious studies, and writing in various institutions of higher education in the US and UK, and am actively seeking my next post.
For a fuller version of her background, please see the end of this post.
A few years ago (2009, to be precise), I contributed an essay to a book on the enduring value of the work of Reinhold Niebuhr My essay is chapter 6, on Niebuhr’s ‘outsider ecclesiology’. Others have argued that Niebuhr’s vision of the Church is the weakest point In his theology. My essay argues that the importance is that the surprising thing is that a person with Niebuhr’s privilege and influence within an institutional church is his effort to critique the church from the viewpoint of those who have little use for it.
Niebuhr held, as did 98th Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple (also an arguably privileged churchman) that people who declined to profess faith in Christ and his Church did not usually do so out of ignorance, stubbornness, or hardness of heart. It was the fault of the Church if, in Temple’s great quip, the Church professed to be a foretaste of heaven, and people said, ‘well, then, I don’t care to go to heaven.’ It was because the Church was presenting the Christian message in ways that were unacceptable to non-Christians (Niebuhr even acknowledged that there might be historic reasons that it would never be acceptable to some groups), or perhaps non-Christians were not terribly impressed with the clash between professed belief and manner of living.
Taken together, the writing careers of Temple and Niebuhr covered roughly the first three-quarters of the 20th century, a time of unprecedented change. But in the decades since Niebuhr’s death in 1971, categories of ‘church-rejectors’ (to coin a phrase) emerged that neither of these theologians could have imagined: the ‘spiritual but not religious’, as Diana Butler Bass describes in her new book Christianity after Religion. Citing both the famous departure of author Anne Rice from the Roman Catholic Church in 2010, and listening to the story of a woman she calls ‘Ellen’ (p. 22 et seq), it is clear that something important is happening. These are not the stories of people who would rather sleep late on Sunday, or whose children’s sport activities conflict with church attendance. Rather, these are thoughtful, serious women who have tried to carry out a meaningful spiritual quest within the framework of institutional religion, and for various reasons, their churches have failed them. With regret, they have decided to leave, and proceed as best they can on their own.
I am sure these women are not alone—I have, on more than one occasion, found myself wondering why I stay in an institution that rarely meets my needs and routinely discourages me in a variety of ways. All I can say by way of explanation is that I believe that institutional religions can meet many deep human needs, and that I hope I can help at least one to do that.
Bass’s focus, however, I think, unduly negative concerning religious institutions, drawing sharp lines between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, and often arguing that ‘religion’ and its institutions are unhelpful in supporting either the individual’s journey towards a fuller life in God, and the formation of vibrant communities of faith. As an ecclesiologist, I have reservations concerning this stance. Institutions are the bearers of traditions of the ‘practices’ which Bass praises for their ability to assist spiritual formation and transformation. Furthermore, properly functioning institutions have structures of accountability which help prevent ‘personality cults’ from developing around charismatic, but questionable, ‘leaders’, providing some measure of protection to people trying to deepen their relationship with their fellow human beings, the natural world, and the divine. Finally, institutions can acquire and deploy resources on a scale usually unavailable to individuals and small groups, thereby assisting in philanthropic aims that are often the fruit of spiritual growth. In terms of growth in spirituality, the institutional church still has much to offer.
For almost 20 years, I have been a relatively serious student of my chosen Christian tradition, the worldwide Anglican Communion. I have recently completed an article in Anglican social theology (it will appear in the Autumn 2012 issue of Anglican Theological Review), and I have reason to believe that the ‘big questions’ I’ve outlined in it are things thoughtfully spiritual people seek to answer. But they are not individually focused questions; rather they involve institutions and their place in society. I explore the historic development of questions of ‘what is the nature and purpose of society in light of God’s intention for human beings?’; ‘what is the place of the Christian Church in an increasingly plural society?’; ‘what benefits does a distinctively Christian presence contribute to a society that acknowledges many spiritual and religious traditions?’ I dig up the pre-Reformation foundations of the tradition, examining how our notions of justice and good government are formed by Christian belief and history.
I am sure I am not the only lay person who wants to explore how belief has formed so many cherished ideas, so that we can revisit and question their appropriateness for the lives we live today, and the lives that will be lived by those who come after us. However, the institutional Churches have not served particularly well for this. They have too long been embroiled in discussing side issues, such as who can serve as an ordained minister, and nosing into the most private aspects of domestic arrangements.
There is, however, cause for hope. Both the Episcopal Church in the USA, and the Church in Wales, have chosen to look carefully at their structures, to see if they can become more effective in deploying resources—financial, material, and human—in the interest of becoming more effective environments for people to explore ways to live lives of justice, wisdom, integrity and compassion in a contemporary world which too often lacks these qualities. The Church in Wales, notably, has said that they cannot continue on as they have been doing. There has been too much decline, too many people not attending services, and they have come up with excellent recommendations as to how to address some of this. I have not seen the same clarity in the Episcopal Church, but there is a similar direction that has come out of the recent triennial General Convention.
My hope, however, is guarded. An entirely new mode of pastoral provision is described in the Church in Wales Review—but those who train new ministers will be doing so from the viewpoint of people with ‘many long years’ experience in ministry.’ Which means, for the most part, people (still primarily men) who have been ordained for decades, and have learned to blame those who do not come to church for the church’s failure to provide spiritual sustenance. It will mean that new clergy will be trained by people who are ‘successful’ at keeping the laity quiet and submissive—no matter how much lip-service is paid to ‘ministry of all the baptized’.
What other institution does this? When a retailer or manufacturer does not reach its intended market, does it say, ‘We’ve got a tremendous product, how silly are they to reject it? We’ll just keep it on the shelf, gathering dust, not bringing anyone through our doors, because we know how good it is.’ Of course not. A smart, entrepreneurial business venture asks questions, and adapts. It brings in new people on staff, it welcomes new points of view—even uncomfortable ones. Hearing hard truths about why something is not working, and acting on what one hears, is the fastest way to get things working again. And yet, this is exactly what the churches refuse to do.
I am not saying that there should not be experienced ordained people training people for ministry in the churches. I am saying that alongside those experienced ordained people, future ministers need to hear—on a regular, frequent basis—from those who have not always been served well by the church. I am one of the people who lives at the edge of the church, often with one foot out the door. I am that rare creature: a dissatisfied spiritual seeker, a lover of God, with a wide knowledge of theology. I could help articulate the needs of many, and help the Church find ways back to being a vibrant community for spiritual growth and community service. The Church doesn’t want that.
I am saddened that the Church has not seen fit to listen to my voice, because that indicates to me a basic institutional dishonesty. The Church says it wants to grow and thrive. It says it is concerned that the attendance numbers are significantly down in the last few decades. It claims to be concerned that people are leaving—but blames it on the plethora of the other choices that our ‘consumerist’ society offers as alternatives to Sunday worship.
That last is patently false. If the Church was meeting the deepest needs and yearnings of spiritual people, it would be a priority in their lives. But it is not, and it chooses to ignore everything except the obvious. Evelyn Underhill, the great Anglican mystic of the early 20th century, said that the ‘only really interesting thing about religion is God.’ People aren’t staying away from the Church to play football or shop—they’re staying away because they aren’t finding God.
The Church in Wales Review says that things have to change, that things cannot be done the same way as they have been. The Review team spoke to a large number of people, and are happy to report that there are still a lot of people who feel deep affection and high regard for the Church, the local vicars, and the bishops. Of course, they also report an overly deferential attitude toward the bishop and local clergy, so it would be very surprising if they heard from very many people who felt they could speak freely about their dissatisfactions and disappointment with the Church. If the Review’s recommendations are to be implemented effectively, that needs to change.
Ph.D. in Theology December, 2000
Dissertation: The Church, For and Against the Nations, in the Thought of William Temple. Develops a political ecclesiology from the writings of William Temple (1881-1944). Director: D. Thomas Hughson, S.J. Defended 25 August 2000.
Comprehensive examinations: Church-State Relations; Sacraments and Moral Formation; Authority and Community; Hebrew Prophecy; 19th Century Theological Liberalism.
M.T.S. in Theology June 1995
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary,Evanston,Illinois
Thesis: Eucharist as a Model of Economic Justice.
Director: Timothy F. Sedgwick.
Master of Business Administration May 1987
Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York
B.F.A. (Honours) in Music June 1984
PUBLICATIONS AND PAPERS
The Ecclesiology of Archbishop William Temple (1881-1944). 2004, Edwin Mellen Press.
‘Reinhold Niebuhr’s Outsider Ecclesiology’ in Reinhold Niebuhr & Contemporary Politics: God and Power, ed. Richard Harries & Stephen Platten. OUP, 2010.
‘Integrity, Alternative Aggressions, and Impaired Communion’ in Ecumenical Ecclesiology: Unity, Diversity and Otherness in a Fragmented World, ed. Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, T&T Clark, 2009.
“Archbishop William Temple And Public Theology in a Post-Christian Context.” Journal of Anglican Studies. December 2006.
“A Bridge to the New World: William Temple’s American Ecumenism.” Anglican and Episcopal History, Spring 2005.
“William Stringfellow’s Sacramental Theology”, Journal of Anglican Studies, Winter 2004.
“But Was it Meant to be a Joke Legacy? Ronald Preston as Heir to William Temple,” Studies in Christian Ethics, August 2004.
“Richard Hooker and American Religious Liberty,” Journal of Church and State, Winter 1999.
“William Temple: Champion of the Jews,” Anglican and Episcopal History, April 1997.
Our Own Others: Natures, Purposes and Futures of Anglican Dioceses. Receptive Ecumenism and Ecclesial Learning Symposium,UshawCollege,DurhamUK 14 January 2009.
Integrity, Alternative Aggressions, and Impaired Communion. Ecclesiological Investigations Programme Unit, American Academy of Religions. San Diego,California,USA. 17 November, 2007
Toward a Theology of Laity. Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology,Leuven,Belgium. 9 November 2007.
IntegrityAlternative Aggressions and Impaired Communion. San Diego,AmericanAcademy of Religions Ecclesiological Investigations Program Unit, November 2007.
A Conversation in Implications for Public Theology in the Windsor Report. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Society for the Study of Anglicanism (additional meeting of the American Academy of Religions), November, 2005. Joint presentation with Revd. Dr. Malcolm Brown, East Anglian Ministerial Training Course.
William Temple and the Challenge of the Post-Christian. San Antonio, Texas: Society for the Study of Anglicanism (additional meeting of the American Academy of Religions), November 2004.
A Bridge to the Old World: William Temple’s American Ecumenism. Chicago,Illinois: Anglican-Lutheran Historical Conference,21 June 2004.
But Was it Meant to be a Joke Legacy? Ronald Preston as Heir to William Temple. Short paper presented as part of a Colloquium on “Ronald Preston and the Future of Christian Social Ethics”, the 2003 Samuel Ferguson Lectures in Social and Pastoral Theology, University of Manchester (UK), 14-15 March, 2003.
Tradition Constituted Inquiry: A Proposal for Theological Method. Upper Midwest Regional AAR. 28 April 2000. St. Paul,MN.
The Anglican Covenant. Mark Chapman, Editor. Practical Theology, Spring 2009.
Light in a Burning Glass: A Systematic Presentation of Austin Farrer’s Theology. By Robert Boak Slocum. Theological Studies, June 2008.
Through the Eye of a Needle: Theological Conversations over Political Economy Edited by John Atherton and Hannah Skinner. Journal of Church and State, Autumn 2007.
God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law. By Marci A. Hamilton. Journal of Church and State, Spring 2006
Melting the Venusberg: A Feminist Theology of Music. By Heidi Epstein. Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2006
Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics, Past and Present. By Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan. Journal of Anglican Studies, December 2005.
Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens. By Bernd Wannenwetsch. Anglican Theological Review. Fall 2005.
Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. By Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart. Journal of Church and State, Summer 2005.
Is the Market Moral? A Dialogue on Religion, Economics, and Justice. By Rebecca M. Blank and William McGurn. Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2005.
A Passionate Pilgrim: A Biography of Bishop James A.Pike. By David Robertson. Journal of Church and State, Spring 2005.
Creation through Wisdom: Theology and the New Biology. By Celia Deane-Drummond. Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2005.
Themes in Religion and American Culture. Goff, Philip and Paul Harvey, eds. Journal of Church and State, Autumn 2005.
Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon. By John Milbank. Journal of Church and State, Winter 2005.
Secularisation. By Edward Norman. Anglican Theological Review, Autumn 2004.
Living Spirit, Living Practice: Poetics, Politics, Epistemology. By Ruth Frankenberg. Journal of Church and State, Autumn 2004.
New Religious Movements in the 21st Century: Legal, Political and Social Challenges in Global Perspective. Edited by Philip Charles Lucas and Thomas Robbins. Journal of Church and State, Summer 2004.
Modernity and the Dilemma of North American Anglican Identities, 1880-1950. By William H. Katerberg. Journal of Church and State, Spring 2004.
Marginalization. By John Atherton. Journal of Church and State, Winter 2004.
September 11: Religious Perspectives on the Causes and Consequences. Ian S. Markham and Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, eds. Journal of Church and State, Spring 2003.
Liberalism and Crime: The British Experience. By Robert R. Sullivan. Journal of Church and State, Winter 2003.
The Social Gospel Today. Christopher H. Evans, ed. Journal of Church and State, Winter, 2002.
The Middle Way: Theology, Politics and Economics in the Later Thought of R.H. Preston. John R. Elford and Ian S. Markham, eds. Journal of Church and State, Winter, 2002.
Politics, Theology, and History. By Raymond Plant. Journal of Church and State, Autumn 2001.
Reflections on the Theology of Richard Hooker: An Elizabethan Addresses Modern Anglicanism. By John Booty. Journal of Church and State, Spring 2001
Public Theology for Changing Times. By John Atherton. Journal of Church and State, Spring 2001.
God, Britain, and Hitler in World War II: The View of the British Clergy, 1939-1945. By A.J. Hoover. Journal of Church and State, Autumn 2000.
Revolutionary Anglicanism: The Colonial Church of England During the American Revolution, by Nancy L. Roden. Journal of Church and State, Spring 2000.
God, Faith and the New Millennium: Christian Belief in an Age of Science, by Keith Ward. Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2002.
Christian Thinking and Social Order: Conviction Politics from the 1930s to the Present Day, edited by Marjorie Reeves. Journal of Church and State, Winter 2000.
American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving, by Christian Smith. Journal of Church and State, Fall 1999.
The Churches and Social Questions in Twentieth-Century Britain, by G.I.T Machin. Journal of Church and State, Summer 1999.
Plurality and Christian Ethics, by Ian Markham. Journal of Church and State, Summer 1999.
Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity, by Gerd Ludemann. Anglican Theological Review, Summer 1998.
The Desire of the Nations: Recovering the Roots of Political Theology, by Oliver O’Donovan. Journal of Church and State, Fall 1997.
Diocese ofCanterbury,Canterbury,United KingdomAugust 2008—December 2010
Director of Studies, Licenced Ministries Training Scheme
Subject tutor: Anglican Theology in Context, Introduction to Christian Theology, Church in Contemporary Culture, parish placements.
Also responsible for the preaching programme (not assessed), annual retreat, instruction on journaling and theological reflection, programmes for training incumbents and local group facilitators.
Design team, Kent Continuing Ministerial Education,Canterbury,United Kingdom, October 2008-July 2009
Project managed design and revalidation of the joint programme for curates inCanterburyand Rochester Dioceses, including design of several modules, leading to BA and MA awards in Ordained Theology throughCanterburyChristChurchUniversity.
RiponCollegeCuddesdon,Oxford, United Kingdom June 2006 – April 2008
Research Fellow, Derby Diocesan ‘Clergy in Ministerial Context Project’
Designed and executed commissioned research in practical theology involving roles and identities of clergy across a single Church of England diocese.
Toward a Theology of Laity, November 2006 and 2007
Insiders/Outsiders, November 2006 and 2007
Impaired Communion November 2007
Archbishop William Temple, March 2007 and February 2008
Richard Hooker,13 March 2007
Eastern Region Ministry Course,Cambridge,United Kingdom
Guest lecturer, MA programme,3 November 2006
Toward a Theology of Laity
Southern Theological Education & Training Scheme,Salisbury
Guest Lecturer, MA Programme June 2007
Oxford Ministry Course,Oxford,United Kingdom
Guest speaker, February 2007
January and February 2008
Toward a Theology of Lay Ministry
Regent’sParkCollege,Oxford University, United Kingdom October 2006 to Present
Fellow,OxfordCentre for Christianity and Contemporary Culture
Research Series in Practical Theology
Lecture: Towards a Theology of Laity,23 February 2007
NiagaraUniversity,Niagara Falls,New York January to May 2004
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Thinking and Writing
CanisiusCollege,Buffalo,New York January to May 2004
Adjunct Professor, Introduction to Religious Studies
RockValleyCollege,Rockford,Illinois Fall 2002
Adjunct Professor, Philosophy and Religion
Introduction to Philosophy, World Religions
Southwestern College, Winfield, Kansas 2001-2002
Visiting Assistant Professor, Religious Studies
Fall term: Science and Religion, Responsibilities for the Future (practical ethics), Pastoral Writing (on-line professional studies course)
Spring term: Introduction to Christian Religion, Comparative Religions, History of Christianity in the US andCanada; Renaissance through Enlightenment (on-line professional studies course); Theological Issues: Ecclesiology (on-line professional studies course)
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary,Evanston,Illinois Spring Quarter, 2001
Adjunct Faculty: Anglican Theology Since the Oxford Movement
CarthageCollege,Kenosha,Wisconsin Fall 2000
Adjunct Instructor, Heritage I (an interdisciplinary first-semester freshman course aimed at improving academic skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking)
Teaching Fellow in Theology. Taught one section per semester of the required undergraduate Introduction to Theology.
MarquetteUniversity,Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1997
Instructional Assistant in the College of Professional Studies. Assisted with grading written assignments, and acted as substitute lecturer, for required theological ethics course in the weekend/evening degree program for working adults.
MarquetteUniversity,Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1996
Teaching Assistant, Department of Theology.
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary,Evanston,Illinois 1994-1995
Student Editorial Assistant, Crossroads
Victory Theatre Association,Dayton,OH 1988-89
Marketing and Public Relations Director
BrazosValleySymphony Society,Bryan,TX 1987-88
ADULT EDUCATION SERIES
What Do We Mean When We Say “Church”? St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Wilmette, IL. 25 March, 2001.
Science and Religion in Contemporary Anglican Theology. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Wilmette, IL. October-November 1999. Four-week series.
St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Wilmette, IL. April 18 and 25, 1999. Two-week series.
William Temple. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Wilmette, IL. May 17, 1998.
Faith and Public Life. St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, River Hills, WI. February 1997.
We Believe: The Nicene Creed. St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, River Hills, WI. October-November 1996. Four-week series. Repeated as a two-week series at St. Augustine’s, April 1997.
Anglican Luminaries: Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, William Temple. St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, River Hills, WI. January-February 1996. Three-week series.
Prayer and Scripture. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Wilmette, IL. April 1995. Four-week series.
PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES AND SERVICE
International Society for the Study of Anglicanism: Advisory Committee
Journal of Anglican Studies: Review Associate forNorth America
Association for Practical Theology (USA)
ACADEMIC AWARDS AND HONORS
Teaching Fellow, Department of Theology
Smith Family Fellow (Travel fellowship for dissertation research)
Charles M. Ross Trust Fellow 1997-1999
Fellowship for Christian Leadership
Episcopal Diocese ofPennsylvania 1996-1999
Church Training and Deaconness House Scholarship
Order of the Daughters of the King 1996-1997
Masters’ Fund Scholarship
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary 1995