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The ABC writes the Primates

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written the Primates of the Anglican Communion with reflections on his recent travels in China and Rome and on the upcoming Primates' Meeting in Tanzania in February and Lambeth Conference in 2008. Jim Naughton has the text of the letter. Tobias Haller, whose observations are always thoughtful, articulate, and well-informed, and with whom I rarely seriously disagree, in this case sees very different things from what I see. Below is posted an excerpt (I'm cutting the salutation and whatnot) from my reply to his post on the subject to the email list for TEC deputies, bishops, and members of interim bodies, which says something of my take on the letter, and below the jump I'll post the text of the letter as Jim Naughton has it so you can see what I'm commenting on.

[The ABC, in his letter to the Primates] says that we're in a period of discernment regarding our relationships with one another as Provinces in the Anglican Communion, and that precipitous action that would compromise that process is, to put it mildly, extremely unhelpful. He will not exclude our Primate from the Primates' Meeting, and he says nothing (that I see, anyway) to the effect that he plans to exclude any duly consecrated bishops in the Anglican Communion from the Lambeth Conference -- just that he will be seeking advice from the Primates' Meeting, which is appropriate enough. We should all be listening to and seeking advice from one another as sisters and brothers in communion who seek to cooperate in God's mission. I note also that the ABC says he is seeking advice from the Primates' Meeting on the matter of Lambeth invitations, which is a far cry from saying that he will be proposing a vote, or feels bound by one on the subject. As for inviting others from TEC to make a presentation to the Primates prior to the usual business of the meeting, I'm generally in favor of people listening to one another in face-to-face encounters, and the terms we've heard thus far about this proposed listening session (and the letter did say that the idea is still being worked out, so the terms are far from final) suggest that it in no way implies that our Primate is anything other than a full and equal member of the Meeting, much as TEC is a full member (and given the metaphor of the body implicit here, I don't know what a "partial" or "associate" member would be, and I'm guessing that the ABC, with his catholic sensibilities, doesn't either) of the Anglican Communion and the Body of Christ. Furthermore, if representatives who have repeatedly appealed to the Primates' Meeting or some subset of its members are allowed to make their case in person before the meeting, they will not be able afterward to say that the process lacked the integrity for wont of that opportunity.

I do, of course, think that inviting only TEC bishops who do not wish to recognize their Presiding Bishop to contribute to that proposed listening session in Tanzania would give a very incomplete picture of what's going on in TEC. The Primates would do well to make sure others, like laity and clergy distressed by their diocesan bishop's insistence on the polarizing and costly (in all kinds of ways, but certainly financially) course of secession from TEC and its structures (structures, by the way, in which these bishops have had every opportunity to make their case in person to their colleagues, as well as to the laity and clergy in their diocese, and which they ought to have been using to ensure that they have listened deeply and respectfully to those who disagree with them). They would also do well to listen deeply and directly to the Bishop of New Hampshire, whom so many talk about without talking -- let alone listening -- to. I am encouraged to note that the ABC does not in his letter imply that the "other contributors" would all be secessionist bishops, but the number of "two or three" invitees does suggest that a great many of us of differing perspectives will have to rely on ++Katharine to speak for us.

Fortunately, our Presiding Bishop is not only a gifted communicator, but outstanding at deep listening even or especially in difficult perspectives and to those of perspectives very different from her own. My prayers will most certainly be with her, and with all gathering in Tanzania this February.

The text of the ABC's letter, as published by Jim Naughton:


During the last few weeks, I have been privileged to spend time first in China and then in Rome – two environments as different as could be, yet both giving abundant signs of the faithfulness of God to his people. The survival and growth of the Church in China is one of the great miracles of our time, and I know that several of you have witnessed something of this at first hand and are eager to find ways of supporting and assisting our brothers and sisters there. In Rome, I was able for the first time to visit the catacombs and to see there the evidence of the same faithfulness, as I looked at the ancient representations of costly witness painted on the walls – the images of the young men in the fiery furnace, Noah in the ark and the haunting and simple picture of the praying woman with hands raised, who is the symbol of the Church itself in its patient endurance. God is with us as he has promised, and in ways we cannot always see clearly. Also in Rome, I had the immense privilege of sharing in a celebration of the martyrdom in 2003 of our own Melanesian Brothers who gave their lives for reconciliation in a time of civil war. In persecution, conflict or obscurity, God is still present and powerfully active. In this Advent season, the great fact we are reminded of is that he is to be trusted in all things.

As Christmas approaches, preparations continue to be made for the Primates’ Meeting in February in Tanzania. A provisional outline of the programme is almost ready – but I am particularly glad that we shall have opportunity to celebrate in the cathedral in Zanzibar the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1806, another great sign of God’s faithfulness and of what can be achieved by Christ’s disciples when they resist the powers of this world.

This meeting will be, of course, an important and difficult and important encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist us in strengthening our unity as a Communion.

There are two points I wish to touch on briefly. The first is a reminder of what our current position actually is in relation to the Episcopal Church. This Province has agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08; and the Joint Standing Committee has appointed a sub-group which has been working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church’s response so far to the Windsor recommendations. In other words, questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces (though some Provinces have already made their position clear). I do not think it wise or just to take any action that will appear to bring that consideration and the whole process of our shared discernment to a premature end.

This is why I have decided not to withhold an invitation to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the elected Primate of the Episcopal Church to attend the forthcoming meeting. I believe it is important that she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ. However, given the acute dissension in the Episcopal Church at this point, and the very widespread effects of this in the Communion, I am also proposing to invite two or three other contributors from that Province for a session to take place before the rest of our formal business, in which the situation may be reviewed, and I am currently consulting as to how this is best organised.

The Episcopal Church is not in any way a monochrome body and we need to be aware of the full range of conviction within it. I am sure that other Primates, like myself, will welcome the clear declarations by several bishops and diocesan conventions (including those dioceses represented at the Camp Allen meeting earlier this year) of their unequivocal support for the process and recommendations of the Windsor Report. There is much to build upon here. There are many in TEC who are deeply concerned as to how they should secure their relationships with the rest of the Communion; I hope we can listen patiently to these anxieties.

My second point is to underline the importance of planning constructively for Lambeth 08. If we become entirely paralysed by our continuing struggles to resolve the challenges posed by decisions in North America, we shall lose a major opportunity for strengthening our common life. The recent St Augustine’s seminar which considered the Lambeth agenda was agreed by all to have been an outstandingly positive week, which has laid out a programme I believe to be worthy of our hopes for the Conference, and which was wholeheartedly owned and approved by people from very different regions and points of view within the seminar group. I do not want to lose that energy. I want to see it channelled properly into projects for better equipping ourselves as bishops and all our pastors and teachers, and into the work we all agree we must do in response to the crying needs created by poverty and violence in our world.

The question of invitations to Lambeth has been raised several times, in relation to the status of TEC, and indeed other Provinces. I shall seek the advice of the meeting on this. I am aware that decisions must be made soon, and I mention it primarily to alert you to the issues that lie ahead and to commend all this to your prayers over the coming season. But it illustrates the point I have made recently to the St Augustine’s Seminar and other groups: at the moment, we urgently need to create a climate of greater trust within the Communion, and to reinforce institutions and conventions that will serve that general climate in a global way.

During my visit to the Pope in November, it was very clear that our ecumenical partners are looking to us not only to strengthen our bonds of ecclesial community and the coherence of our Christian witness, but also to show a hopeful and Christian spirit in resolving our current problems. Our partners are praying very intensely for us in this task, and their prayer deepens my own sense of resolve, as I am sure it will yours.
I should also mention that I have accepted the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee that the Archbishop of York should be invited to the forthcoming meeting, so that there is a distinction between the two roles of speaking for the Church of England and chairing and moderating the meeting overall.

But finally, to end where I began, our reliance must be fundamentally upon God’s faithfulness. Whatever lies ahead, our God is the God who was present in the Roman catacombs with the martyrs and who has led his people in China through half a century of oppression and distress. Immanuel, God-with-us in Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is our sole hope and our life, today, tomorrow and for ever. May God help us to honour his inexpressible gift by our faithfulness, forbearance and mutual love.

With every blessing for the Christmas season and the New Year.


December 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fr. Tony Clavier on the Virginia splits

When I only have time to read a few Anglican blogs, Fr. Tony Clavier's is always on my "don't miss" list; his point of view is distinctive if not entirely unique, and he writes with clarity, cogency, and a deep grasp of and passion for Anglican tradition. His last two posts are particularly potent, and I encourage you to read them: "Stones Cry Out," a reflection on the secession of the leadership and an overwhelming majority of parishioners of the Falls Church in parish in Virginia, and "Christmas 2006," a reflection on the Incarnation, unity, and current events in light of Philippians 2:1-18.

December 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0)

increasing chaos among breakaway movements

Officials of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin made much in October of proposed changes to their constitution. The changes they were advocating as of October 1 -- the ones that diocesan public relations officer Fr. Van McCalister announced here had been with the diocese's secretary of convention since September 1 -- can be found here. These changes would remove all reference to the Diocese of San Joaquin being part of The Episcopal Church or subject to The Episcopal Church's constitution and canons, instead saying that the diocese "accedes to the Faith, Order and Practice of a province of that branch of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church known as the Anglican Communion" in an attempt "to transfer all relationships and communion from ECUSA to an Anglican Province to be determined at a Special Convention called by the Bishop of San Joaquin."

The last 48 hours have seen a fair amount of confusion and speculation, though, as the Fresno Bee and the AP each reported that the diocese had backed down from their earlier proposal to break with The Episcopal Church. As always, Jim Naughton of the Diocese of Washington was on top of developments, but it was difficult to ascertain what precisely was going on without a published text of any revised proposals for San Joaquin's convention.

As of the afternoon of November 30, the Fresno Bee was reporting the change in direction this way:

Clergy and lay delegates had been poised to consider a groundbreaking resolution to split from the Episcopal Church - the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member Anglican family - as divisions over the Bible and sexuality tear at the faith's national leadership.

Instead, they'll consider a watered-down proposal that makes no significant changes to the conservative diocese's status. Amendments can be made during the meeting, which starts Friday.

"Instead of declaring that we're on our way to this or that province, it says we recognize and declare that we're Anglican," said the Rev. Van McCalister, a spokesman for the diocese, which covers a wide swath of Central California.

The AP said this:

Episcopal leaders offered conservatives more independence from the national church Thursday, as a California diocese quietly backed down from its threat of a swift break with the denomination. ...

A spokesman for the Diocese of San Joaquin, the Rev. Van McCalister, would not elaborate Thursday on why his diocese changed course on breaking away.

Today, the Connecticut Six blog published what they presented as "a copy of a new amendment to be proposed at the convention in San Joaquin after the committee votes to remove the initial new amendment." If this is accurate, I'd say that the Fresno Bee and AP leads were misleading. The text of the newly proposed constitutional amendments removes all references to the Diocese of San Joaquin being a part of The Episcopal Church and subject to its constitution and canons; as Fr. McCalister told the Fresno Bee, the only thing the new proposed revisions don't suggest that the old ones did is that the diocese would be joining another province immediately. But the new revisions do say far more than "we recognize and declare that we're Anglican" -- something that wouldn't need declaring as long as the diocese was a part of The Episcopal Church, a province that is fully a member of the Anglican Communion according to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I find two things very interesting about the newly proposed amendments:

First, and unmentioned in news coverage to date, is that the newly proposed revisions to San Joaquin's constitution include an entirely new one:

4. To Amend Article I of the Constitution which requires a ¾ vote of approval by orders.
Following the word “embrace” add the words “but not be limited to”, so as to read:
Article I

Title and Territory
This Diocese shall be known as the Diocese of San Joaquin.  Its territory shall embrace but not be limited to [emphasis mine -- SDB] all that portion of the State of California included in the counties of San Joaquin, Alpine, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Mono, Merced, Mariposa, Tuolomne, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, and Inyo.

In other words, the report of Fr. Jake Stops the World that San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield's presentations to congregations included the claim that he would be free in the new structure he envisions to plant new congregations "even in deepest, darkest Los Angeles, and the deepest, darkest San Francisco ... wherever" now have solid (well, as solid as the Connecticut Six blog's report) textual evidence to back it up. So much for "Windsor compliance"; the Bishop of San Joaquin plans to plant congregations in the dioceses of other Anglican Communion bishops. If Fr. Jake's report is correct, he's also claiming to have the backing of "the Primates" -- or at least, the six who recently visited the U.S. for the board meeting of Anglican Relief and Development -- per a message from Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh.

Second, the last-minute scrambling in San Joaquin is strongly reminiscent of the scrambling that took place earlier among bishops petitioning the Archbishop of Canterbury for:

  • alternative primatial oversight (oops, that was rejected as a term in September)
  • a direct relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury (that got dropped pretty quickly)
  • a Commissary (defined by Bishop Stanton of Dallas, who proposed the term, as "a sort of vicar from colonial days")
  • a Vicar (offered by the Presiding Bishop and colleagues coming out of the November meeting that +Duncan, +Iker, and others boycotted, and so the idea of "a sort of vicar" -- which a Primatial Vicar would most definitely be -- got dropped in a hurry)
  • alternative primatial oversight -- which is once again the Anglican Communion Network's term of choice, now that a Primatial Vicar was offered and the offer rejected on the same day, on the grounds that it was not sufficiently "primatial" (the very ground on which Bishop Stanton asked specifically for "a sort of vicar" instead) as well as not sufficiently "alternative" and not "oversight." I can't help but wonder what Bishop Stanton thinks of all this.

Not only have the breakaway organizations failed to come up with a consistent and coherent vision of what kind of "oversight" or "care" they want and who could or should provide it, but they also don't agree on what kind of new or reconstituted structure or structures would be best, with various parties proposing:

  • In the case of San Joaquin's newly proposed constitutional revisions, simply breaking off from The Episcopal Church without joining anything else, resulting in "The Anglican Church of San Joaquin," a province consisting of a single diocese "in full communion with the See of Canterbury";
  • In most proposals from the Anglican Communion Network, forming with others a non-geographic or mix of geographic (e.g., the Diocese of Pittsburgh, except that individual parishes would supposedly be free to declare themselves part of another diocese, making for diocesan borders looking a little like patterns in a kitchen strainer) and non-geographic (e.g., the "Forward in Faith Convocation") judicatories to form a "Province X" of The Episcopal Church -- but seemingly not under its Presiding Bishop, constitution, or canons;
  • joining another Anglican province (e.g., the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, or Nigeria);
  • forming a "'college' of bishops and dioceses within The Episcopal Church ... without this requiring either an alternative province or the intervention of bishops from outside the US."

This last "'college' of bishops and dioceses" option is the proposal of the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI), released today on its own website after versions appeared yesterday on the Stand Firm blog and TitusOneNine. Although the ACI shares with the Stand Firm and TitusOneNine blogs the "few good men" model of volunteer writers, it has -- until yesterday -- sought to distance itself from these other blogs, which function most often as a rapid-response machines to energize a highly partisan base, and instead sought to present itself as a kind of six-man (the ACI's regular contributors are all male, all priests, and I believe all white) online academic institution, albeit without scholarly peer review beyond their six "collegial theologians."

The ACI's previous offerings have, for the most part, been characterized by a measured tone, careful argumentation, and copious sourcing -- with the notable exception of yesterday's "Proposal for an Interium [sic] Arrangement While Awaiting a Conciliar Communion Covenant." This proposal -- a proposed alternative to the one released on ENS and the Anglican Communion News Service yesterday, and welcomed (albeit "cautiously") by the Archbishop of Canterbury -- was released to conservative blogs before being published on the ACI's own website, a move which I thought last night might indicate a rush to publish prompted by the Presiding Bishop's proposal.

The text released on those blogs (and now on the ACI's website as well) included a kind of apology for the timing of the release in an introduction that, especially in comparison to the ACI's usual tone and care, strikes me as hastily scribbled. It notes (in what seems to function rhetorically as a kind of apology, in the sense of defense) that their proposal, despite the timing of its release, was a much earlier creation "that has previously been circulated among some of the leadership of the Anglican Communion." The spelling errors that riddle the proposal (most embarrassingly, the spelling of Dromantine as "Dromentine," given that the Primates' Dromantine communiqué is the only primary source to which they refer, even obliquely, in their proposal) are only the first and most obvious indication that, in a student paper, would suggest to me a project rushed to very rapid completion, with no time for proofreading, let alone careful crafting.

Please don't get me wrong: SarahLaughed.net has all kinds of typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors. I am, after all, just one gal with a website that I maintain in my spare time, such as it is. The ACI website, unlike SarahLaughed.net, goes to some lengths to establish itself as being something other than "six guys with a website and some spare time," from the academic-sounding domain name to the academic terminology of "collegial" (without a college) and "fellows." All but one of the six guys of the ACI have a Ph.D., and every honorific title gets listed not only on the front page, but in every byline.

All of those are small measures that add up to more by their consistency. The academic ring of ACI postings means even more. Contrary to popular stereotypes about academics, most of us don't talk with friends or write notes to family in sixteen-page treatises with copious footnotes and measured tones; when we do strike those notes and pack that much information into an argument, it's because significant time, effort, and care has been taken. When the ACI risks undermining the reputation built up with such time, effort, and care over the course of years by publishing something that looks more like a memo dashed off in an hour than a proposal crafted over the course of weeks and vetted by a broad spectrum of thinkers -- especially on a topic as important as this -- there's got to be a reason.

The most convincing explanation to me remains the most obvious one: the ACI proposal has such a rushed tone because it was very, very rushed. It was released to partisan bloggers first because they could get it published most quickly, and time was of the essence. And time was of the essence because of the sudden rush of competing and conflicting proposals and responses being fired off by the rapidly responding (but not particularly disciplined or coordinated, it seems) machines of organizations that share with the ACI a feeling that, as their proposal states, "any solution that ... leaves her [i.e., the Presiding Bishop] fully at the table" is unacceptable, but seem to agree on little else.

I found myself somewhat astonished that the ACI, normally a group that takes great pains to provide extensive theological justification for their proposals, would state it so baldly and without any reference to scripture or the Church's tradition: I cannot help but suspect that the "conciliar" covenant the ACI awaits, like proposals for the interim, will be evaluated above all on the basis of whether it could ever allow for Katharine Jefferts Schori to be "at the table."

In any case, the ACI's uncharacteristic haste to release a document so clearly "not ready for prime time," and to do so first via conservative bloggers, points to a something of far greater consequence. The proposal from New York for a Primatial Vicar did not require such a rapid answer from the ACI; implementing it would take time and consultation, allowing the ACI time for to exercise their customary care before posting. But other conservative leaders were in rapid response mode, and were making very public statements with language and envisioning structures completely incompatible with the ACI's proposals.

In other words, I believe it's possible that the primary audience for the ACI's hasty release -- the people the ACI was hoping most to influence by it -- were not Primates abroad, but conservatives in the U.S., whom the ACI hopes will unite around their creative, if rather confusing, proposal of a "'college' of bishops" (even they have to put "college" in quotes for the phrase) both within and apart from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, and exercising episkope over some, but not all, of the congregations in their dioceses, as well as over some congregations in other bishops' dioceses.

The details of how on earth that could work (aside from providing full employment for Carter Center observers called upon to monitor innumerable fraught congregational votes on who their bishop should be this week or this month) are of as little importance as their complete neglect in the ACI proposal suggests; the main point of the ACI proposal, in my reading, is that breakaway organizations will not be able to gain traction for their proposals so long as they depend upon something the Windsor Report -- in the tradition of church councils going back at least to Nicea -- clearly condemns: namely, the intervention of foreign bishops in others' provinces.

The six guys of the ACI are seeking to combat the significant confusion and dissension among breakaway movements regarding what they want to happen, which in turn represent significant confusion within and conflict among underlying assumptions of ecclesiology: they cannot agree on what it means to be church, and "one holy, catholic, and apostolic" at that; what it means to be in communion; and what it means to be "in Christ" -- all of which, I would say, are in essence one question.

In that endeavor in particular, I am praying for the ACI's success. Something they and I share wholeheartedly, I hope, is the conviction that the Church is called to koinonia -- not "impaired communion" or "associate membership in communion," but Communion, full stop. Anything less among those who celebrate the Eucharist, the Lord's Meal, slanders against the Holy Spirit into whom we were Baptized and the one Lord at whose table we claim to gather.

I may not share the particularities of their vision as to how we might best live into God's call to Christ's Body to be one as Christ is one, but I have to say this: if the subtle and not-so-subtle sniping and competition among those most vociferously proclaiming themselves the guardians of the orthodoxy and koinonia at the heart of the Windsor Report's most helpful exhortations is any indication of what the family of Anglican churches would be like if they had authority to implement their proposals without deep, lengthy, and broad consultation, I think that our current and very messy polity is the better course. If the breakaway movements of American Episcopalians do come to define what the next stages of our life together in the Anglican Communion look like, I hope the ACI's six guys succeed in basing it on principles of conciliarity rather than the competing and fractious rhetoric of some of their conservative competitors within (for the moment) The Episcopal Church. But I remain confident that God calls us to more than that -- to a Communion that includes all the Baptized -- and I look forward to partnering with any and all working toward that goal.

December 2, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack