But all that energy is eventually absorbed into our surroundings, never to be regained -- as are the other 1,999,999,999 parts of the whole that do not reach us. This is the famous Second Law of Thermodynamics. Energy (order) in the universe dissipates as entropy (the measure of disorder) increases. The process has never been observed to run the other way, although theoretically there is no physical law to prevent it. (Isaac Asimov in 1956 wrote a marvelous short story about mankind's futile attempts to reverse the process of entropy by constructing ever larger and more complex computers in an effort to analyze and solve the problem. If you have never read it, I won't spoil it for you -- read it here. UPDATE 10/18/2009: Dr. Mabuse at Kraalspace has supplemented this post with a great YouTube video illustrating in verse and song the first and second laws, together with a bonus video about work creating ever more work -- don't miss them.)
Each individual human represents, for most of his or her lifetime, a temporary reversal of the Second Law. Energy is taken into our mass from the moment of conception, and fuels our growth into an adult. It maintains our constant body temperature which is required to keep our brain functioning, and when we are no longer able to take in more energy to sustain us, we die. All of our mass then dissipates back into the world from which we came, as the burial service recognizes: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . ."
In the same way, institutions can for a time defy the Second Law. They accumulate people and energy, and flourish and spread and thrive. Some can maintain their health for centuries, or even millennia. But if the flow of energy out begins to exceed the amount that is taken in, eventually the institution must succumb to the Second Law if the process cannot be reversed.
The Episcopal Church (USA) is no exception to the Law. I submit that all of the outward signs point to a draining from it of people and energy which at the moment is very much greater than what it is managing to attract to itself.
There is no glee to be had here, no Schadenfreude. I am an Episcopalian -- a member of a Church that is in free fall, and whose current leadership is a disgrace, as they say, to the profession. Consider the fifty-year trend in its numbers, as vividly portrayed by Bishop FitzSimons Allison in this brilliant analysis of what that leadership has done wrong -- and continues to do wrong, as borne out by the latest figures. Consider the huge drain on its reserves caused by that leadership's decisions to go to court wherever and whenever they think another parish (or diocese) must be sued for its property.
And last, but by no means least, consider the self-inflicted wounds caused by the Church's deposition of more than 200 of its clergy in just the last eight years -- every one of them unnecessary when simple letters dimissory would have sufficed. Add to this, now, the arrogant and lawless leadership of the Chief Kaitiff (for so I must call her when she acts in this way) -- whose respect for the Church's Canons is as non-existent as is her understanding of them.
I will not rehearse the latest canonical absurdities yet one more time; the Anglican Communion Institute and Dean Munday have both provided the sordid details. What I wish to draw your attention to is the sheer smouldering dudgeon that emanates from the Chief Kaitiff's every public pronouncement attempting to defend the indefensible. Here is her pathetic justification for her gratuitous and offensive decision to treat as a "renunciation of ministry" the notification sent to her as a courtesy by the Right Reverend Keith Ackerman that he would be assisting in the Diocese of Bolivia:
Thank you for your follow up note regarding your plans to function as a bishop in the Diocese of Bolivia in the Province of the Southern Cone. As you know, there is no provision for transferring a bishop to another Province. [NB: Bishop Ackerman did not even request a transfer!]
I am therefore releasing you from the obligations of ordained ministry in this Church . . .
Compare that to the equally pathetic display of canonical contumely in the Chief Kaitiff's letter to the Right Reverend Henry Scriven, on the occasion of his return to England to serve under the Bishop of Oxford:
Dear Henry,. . .I understand your request to resign as a member of the House of Bishops to mean that you will become a bishop of the Church of England, serving as assistant to the Bishop of Oxford. I will on those grounds, and with the consent of the Council of Advice, release you from your orders in this Church, "for reasons not affecting your moral character." Those words are what the canons require . . .
I sense that you may have some misunderstanding of our canon law, given your comments about Robert Duncan's deposition. That action took place on the grounds that he had repeatedly violated the discipline of this Church. Our ordination vows require us to "conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church." Deposition means that he may no longer function as a sacramental representative of The Episcopal Church. We understand orders to be indelible, but that licensing is required to exercise them. I fear that that subtlety is lost on some of our Communion partners.
As I say, this is not ignorance, but contumely. The Chief Kaitiff is presuming not only that she has the authority, but also the obligation, to transform a simple resignation request into a renunciation of Holy Orders. She has neither, and it is a another sign of the Church's increasing entropy that there are twelve other bishops of this Church on her Council of Advice who cannot tell her that. (Bishop Ackerman -- whose health insurance was canceled as a result of ECUSA's managing to freeze the accounts of the Diocese of Quincy -- did not submit a resignation, but had indicated he needed to go back to work in order to pay for insurance, and that he was going to Bolivia just for a while, and still planned to assist in the Diocese of Springfield.)
Does the Chief Kaitiff and her Council of Vice (for that is what they are aiding and abetting) conceive that the Church of England treated Bishop Scriven as renouncing his orders when he came to serve in Pittsburgh? The Church of England did not find it necessary to declare that he was "released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and . . . deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred on him in Ordinations" -- thus why does the Presiding Bishop pretend that ECUSA must do so? (And if orders are truly "indelible" upon deposition, as she admits, then why use a Canon designed for the case when someone truly renounces them [i.e., does not wish to exercise them anywhere else], for the much more routine situation when one wishes to continue to exercise one's ministry, but in another Province of the Communion? Such obtuseness cannot flow from ignorance, especially when one is serving as the presiding officer of the House of Bishops and has a legion of advisors. That is why I say her abuse of the renunciation Canon evinces arrogance -- and high dudgeon.)
The latest edition of The Episcopal Church Annual lists sixteen clergy transferred into ECUSA from other provinces of the Anglican Communion, including England, Kenya, Canada, Korea, the Sudan, the Philippines, Rwanda, Central and West Africa, Mexico and the Southern Cone. Did any of those churches find it necessary to declare that those clergy had thereby renounced their orders? Certainly not -- the very meaning of being "in Communion with" other Churches is that you recognize their orders, and they recognize yours.
The same edition lists another nineteen clergy from ECUSA who were transferred, without being deposed, to other Anglican provinces -- including again to the Southern Cone, as well as to Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria, among others. No bishops are listed, but then, bishops are not accountable to anyone but their dioceses. If a diocesan bishop wishes to transfer elsewhere, he makes arrangements with his Standing Committee, and if he is resigning his jurisdiction, he submits his resignation to the House of Bishops. (Theoretically, they could refuse to accept it, but what would be the point? The House of Bishops would be powerless to stop the Bishop in question from transferring, because it has no jurisdiction over inter-provincial transfers. And neither does the Chief Kaitiff.)
Diocesan bishops do have power to approve the transfer of clergy (including resigned and inferior bishops under their jurisdiction) to other provinces. They do so by issuing letters dimissory. Presumably all nineteen of the clergy listed in the Red Book as having transferred last year were granted such letters by their diocesans. (It would make no sense for a diocesan to issue a letter dimissory to himself; that is why there is no provision for it in the Canons. When a diocesan wants to transfer, or work elsewhere, he just leaves.)
What rankles the Chief Kaitiff and her colleagues, apparently, is when a member of the clergy wishes to transfer to another province in the Communion, but to remain geographically within the confines of the United States. (Aside: this is not what Bishop Ackerman did -- he really was going to Bolivia, but not to function as a bishop there.) They cannot accept that any other province in the Communion could have a legitimate reason for operating parishes and missions within this country. Instead of rejoicing and being glad for the souls thereby being ministered to by others with whom they profess to be in Communion, they insist that such souls must go to another denomination entirely if they choose to leave the Church. "It's our way or the highway!" And that desertion of mission is the final (and terminal) sign of ECUSA's succumbing to the Second Law.
In such cases, the Chief Kaitiff and those who think like her hold that the departing clergy (and the intruding provinces) are "competing" with "their franchise." Here is what Ms. Jefferts Schori wrote recently to the House of Bishops on this subject (I have added the bold for emphasis):
I will continue to uphold two basic principles in the work some of us face in dealing with former Episcopalians who claim rights to church property or assets. Our participation in God’s mission as leaders and stewards of The Episcopal Church means that we expect a reasonable and fair financial arrangement in any property settlement, and that we do not make settlements that encourage religious bodies who seek to replace The Episcopal Church.
Pragmatically, the latter means property settlements need to include a clause that forbids, for a period of at least five years, the presence of bishops on the property who are not members of this House, unless they are invited by the diocesan bishop for purposes which do not subvert mission and ministry in the name of this Church.
The Chief Kaitiff here gives expression to her greatest fear: that of being "replaced". So to view what is going on is to contribute to the decline and fall of the Episcopal Church (USA), and indeed to hasten its demise. The very act of viewing the mission of the Church as one of "competition" for members skews its mission. To take punitive and protective measures in a vain attempt to wall in the Holy Spirit, as though ECUSA had an exclusive franchise from the Trinity, is to see the Church not as a church, but as a beleaguered camp surrounded by hostile forces bent on doing it ill. That is not only a classic case of projection, but tragically, and fatally, it is to mistake the real enemy.
An organism that is in decline begins to shut down, and to cut itself off from the very outside sources that nourish it, as it feeds more and more upon itself. As dying people refuse all offers of food, so ECUSA is slowly but surely cutting itself off from the rest of the Anglican Communion. And as with C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, the punishment will be both self-inflicted and at the same time invisible to the victims. ECUSA had no use for the Windsor Report's reminder that one can choose to "walk apart", because ECUSA sees the rest of the Communion as not in a common purpose with it, but as in "competition". And with the way its leadership continues to act, ECUSA will have no need of the proposed Covenant, either. Its rejection of the Covenant will be fully parallel to the decision of those in Lewis' profound book who reject the world of light (and the Christian fellowship that comes with it) to climb back onto their sad little bus and return to the dismal and dreary surroundings of their own making.
Some say the Second Law is inexorable; that entropy cannot be reversed. As Asimov's story linked above illustrates, it would certainly take a great deal of effort and (divine) energy to do so. Like the Sun, however, the Episcopal Church (USA) is squandering its resources, and will eventually deplete them. The energy still coming into the Church is in decline, and has now fallen below the quantity that is flowing out. The trend only accelerates, as those who perceive the sinkhole make for the exits.
What is going on cannot usefully be called competition. It is called life in a fallen world.