|Some Historical Notes
on the Bishop Elliott Society
|A Letter from the Founding President, the Rev. W.L. Prehn III
January 14, 2004
Dear Friends in West Texas and Elsewhere:
I am delighted to know that Frank Fuller and others have put a new battery in the B.E.S.! I had fully intended to keep
the thing going when I went out to TMI in 1996, but boy did I overestimate the amount of extra time I would have as a
school chaplain and administrator! I never found a successor as Convenor; hence, Frank and I declared the BES
The Society was created back in the early '90s for one reason only -- to function as a formal "theological fellowship" in
South Texas. We hoped, simply, to get folks together for a good time and some serious discussion of God, humankind,
and the universe. In our first several years, we enjoyed some wonderful worship and meals together and sponsored
some guest speakers who had a lasting influence on the Diocese of West Texas. (If I remember accurately, Donald
Allchin's series of talks on Celtic Christianity drew over 400 participants.)
The Society was decidedly apolitical and we had no intention whatsoever of becoming a party within the diocese or
larger Church. We were mostly interested in exploring our Anglican identity as followers of Jesus Christ, hoping to
become enriched and better servants of the Gospel in the places where we served as laypersons and clergy.Besides
Frank and myself, [Mary Earle,] Paul Fortney and Tom McCarty were the early organizers. But we must never forget
the support we got -- both in terms of advice and initial funding -- from Mark Cannaday and Bishops MacNaughton
and McAllister. (Be mindful that Gerry and Helen are "Life Fellows," having pretty much endowed us in the
beginning!) We had categories of fellows -- Life, Sustaining, and Supporting, depending on the level of giving for the
Theological fellowships like the B.E.S. are especially necessary today, as the Episcopal Church enters -- hopefully (and I
am still hoping for this) -- a new, more intense period of discussion about critical issues before us. Moreover, I have
always believed -- and I have discovered it again and again in my ministry over 19 years -- that Episcopal laypersons
love to be challenged with hardcore teaching and learning: Indeed, honoring laypersons with top-quality programs,
opportunities to learn the Faith in depth, etc., ANIMATES them for ministry! (We also discovered this to be true with
the 80 some-odd graduates of the Bishop's School for Ministry: I've never seen such enthusiasm generated, and these
brothers and sisters were alive for Gospel work in West Texas.) That is exciting! It is not the soul only that is saved,
sanctified, and prepared for the Fuller Life; it is the mind and body also. So often, we find that serious study has the
effect of removing logs from the eye and clots from the heart.
So, more power to you fellows! Being on-line is a brilliant move by Frank. I hope that, as you-- as we--move forward in
terms of dialogue and prospective programs or conferences, we can always bear in mind the degree to which we are all
in "this thing" together.
My intense historical studies over the last 2.5 years have only convinced me that we Americans -- whether liberal or
conservative, traditionalist or innovative -- are all part of a massive cultural phenomenon that is proving to be
problematic in a great many ways. The ECUSA has been a bellwether of this culture, not for 30 or 40 years, but for
300. Our self-examination at this time needs to be radical and our critique, inclusive. Of course, we need to look for the
good news about this larger culture (there is more than is sometimes assumed); yet, we must be sober and more
self-critical than ever before.
And we must have more Charity than ever before. "Liberals" tend (if I may say so as a Liberal) to prize love over
truth. "Conservatives" (if I may speak as a Conservative) tend to exalt truth over charity. But we must have both if we
are to remain loyal daughters and sons of Jesus Christ. It is human nature to take the easy way out of difficulties.
Many on both sides of the current issue are wont to make things too easy. One thing we can be sure about is that the
Way of Jesus is the Way of the Cross: The Way to the Father is by way of the Cross.
Of course, there are many things we can in fact be sure about, beginning with the facts that God raised Jesus of
Nazareth from the dead (Christianity did NOT originate in reason or myth, but in history); that Jesus reigns in this
world as He is hidden sacramentally in the Church Catholic; and that through the Holy Spirit Christ has ALWAYS
guided and will always guide His faithful servants into the future that belongs always to the Lord of lords, the King of
kings -- and not to those who maintain the Primeval Rebellion of "the world, the flesh, or the devil."
God bless us. Way to go, Frank! It's great to be in touch! I hope we can form a community via light-wire, exchange
ideas, and suggest ways to follow Jesus more effectively as Episcopalians and lovers of the Anglican tradition.
W.L. (Chip) Prehn