A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
Date: Tue, 06 Aug 2002 10:38:53 -0500
From: Ernesto M. Obregon email@example.com
You are right in what you say about Latinos. Sometimes it takes a member of one excluded community to understand members of another excluded community. Despite the fact that I am Caucasian, I have found some of my best fellowship not with my fellow "white" Episcopal ministers, but with my fellow excluded African-American pastors. In fact, for my Ph.D thesis, I have asked that Rev. Gregory Thomas, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor at Harvard and an African-American Baptist pastor be my Ordinarius rather than a fellow Episcopalian.
Having said that, one of the dangers of my being an "excluded" person is that I can begin to make that my status. My status is that I am a Son of God, which nothing can change. In passing, I prefer the usage Son or Daughter of God because to say Child of God seems to keep me in a perpetual state of immaturity. I'd like to believe that while I'm not perfect, I have grown at least a little bit.
The Episcopal Church will have trouble with Latinos (and will have trouble with any other ethnic community) as long as it keeps its status as a living museum. My biggest opposition to practices of the Latino community in Alabama has come from quite good Episcopalians who cannot seem to allow for non-Anglo forms of worship, despite the fact that no prayer book rubrics or standards of sound practice are broken. It is a form of prayer book and hymnal and altar guild and bible translation fundamentalism that surpasses that of the Prayer Book Society, if that were possible.
Please look at the canons that have to do with Bible translations and the Prayer Book, for instance. Notice that there's only one Spanish translation mentioned as allowed in worship and that one is a translation of an English paraphrase. Technically by the wording of that canon I am not only prohibited from using any other translation of already allowed Bibles in the public reading of Scripture (and there are indeed Spanish versions of the NIV, the NASB, the Jerusalem, etc.), I am even prohibited from using translations produced in Spain or Latin America by the Roman and Protestant communities of scholars in those places. Of course, I break that canon. But the bishop has given me permission to use other translations rather than only the one allowed in the canon. Does that mean that he broke the canon as well?
The canon on the prayer book has an exclusion that allows liturgies to be approved in other languages provided there is no translation of the prayer book (and associated Occasional Services) into that language. However, once the prayer book is translated into that language, all other liturgical forms outside the approved must cease. Of course, in practice, this is an ignored canon. I have liturgical forms for rites that do not and have never existed in British Anglicanism or British Roman Catholicism, but do exist in Latin American Roman Catholicism that I use. I, of course, modify them to comply generally with Anglican theology, and the bishop is aware of them. But this means that many communities, such as the Lakota, the Navajo, ourselves, etc., are technically in violation of this canon when we regularly and commonly use rites that are not of British descent. No allowance is made, other than the extremely cumbersome process of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music, for the use of orthodox rites of other ethnic communities (suitably modified for Anglicanism, of course).
This type of ethnocentrism permeates the canons, habits, and practices of the Episcopal Church in the USA. Like our Roman sister, we need to begin to allow for legitimate variations in our liturgical expressions. I must admit that I never thought I'd say that the Roman Church, with its mandatory canon of the liturgy, would end up being more flexible in practice than the Episcopal Church, but it is so. The key to our being able to deal with new communities is to have a built-in flexibility that allows us to adapt quickly. There need to be some boundaries to the flexibility, and there needs to be episcopal oversight. But what we have now is a stultifying approach to our prayer book and music and bible translations that push one heavily to becoming a white person of British descent in order to be an Episcopalian. It is no surprise that we also have trouble attracting African-Americans.
It may be that there's already a process underway at national level to deal with some of this, but I'm not on any of the national committees, so I'm not aware of it. But this gives you an idea of some of my concerns.
Ernesto M. Obregon
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