Over the last few weeks there have been major developments within TEC as it becomes clear that now dioceses and not just parishes are feeling unable to continue in their existing relationship with the national church.
We have seen a decision by the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the context of a strongly-worded letter from the Presiding Bishop and a short but illuminating reply from Bishop Bob Duncan (and a response from Bishop John Howe).
A similar exchange has now taken place between the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Jack Iker of Forth Worth (a diocese, unlike Pittsburgh, that is also strongly opposed to women’s ordination and whose convention meets this week-end).
Then, the wider Communion context of these moves has become clear with the decision of the province of the Southern Cone (Dave Walker has his humorous take on the province) to welcome into their provincial structures those bishops and dioceses that depart from TEC. The key part of the motion reads
WE the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America meeting in Valpariso, Chile, in November 2007 welcome into the membership of our province on an emergency and pastoral basis those dioceses of the Episcopal Church taking appropriate action to separate from that Church. We do this in order that such dioceses may continue in the mainstream of the Anglican Communion and be faithful to its Biblical and historic teaching and witness; and we pray for God’s grace and help to resolve the painful, critical situation in our beloved Anglican Communion.
They have already embraced Bishop Don Harvey, a retired Canadian bishop and leader of the Anglican Network in Canada where the situation looks like it will worsen rapidly given today’s decision by the Diocese of Niagara to bless same-sex marriages (following similar decisions in the dioceses of Ottawa and Montreal).
The next and most significant conflict is the Diocese of San Joaquin. Unlike Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, its diocesan convention has already taken the first step to free itself from the structures of TEC and so its forthcoming convention next month could make it the first diocese to achieve the necessary agreement of two consecutive synods. If it were to accept Southern Cone’s invitation this would, among other things, raise the question as to whether its Bishop, John-David Schofield, would have his invitation to Lambeth withdrawn and whether the Archbishop of Canterbury would recognise any TEC replacement bishop for the diocese. A sense of the situation in the diocese is gained by the important pastoral letter to be read in all churches of the diocese tomorrow and the following Sunday.
It is also becoming clear from the law-suits in the Dicoese of Virginia (relating to parishes that voted to join CANA, the Nigerian missionary convocation under Bishop Martyn Minns) that the Presiding Bishop is determined to take a strong line of resistance to parishes leaving for other provinces (blog reports from BabyBlue). What is particularly interesting is that she prevented the diocese reaching an amicable agreement with the parishes in relation to their buildings and the crucial problem for her was apparently that they would be used by another part of the Communion. If they had gone to another denomination or even to a secular organisation it appears there would not have been such a problem. A similar emphasis was clear in the conditions laid down as part of the proposed Episcopal Visitors scheme - parishes seeking it and bishops involved in it must reject all attempts of churches to move into another province (such as was done, with the bishop’s agreement, by Christ Church, Plano which, under David Roseberry, moved from TEC to AmiA under Rwanda).
It appears that the powers-that-be in TEC are determined to prevent any existing parish or diocese claiming to be part of the Anglican Communion unless it remains within TEC. The theological and ecclesiological argument that is being put forward is that of the tradition of only one episcopal jurisdiction within a territory. This is clearly incredible - it only makes sense when there is a commitment to shared common counsel and shared understanding of the faith and the point is that for those parishes and dioceses and for the provinces taking them into their polity this no longer exists with the structures of TEC. Furthermore, the willingness to allow other denominations to take over property does not fit with this understanding.
In trying to understand the real rationale behind this I was reminded of part of the biography of Gene Robinson (Going to Heaven) which I read recently. At one point (p209), his predecessor as Bishop of New Hampshire - Bishop Doug Theuner - is reported recalling part of his early training as a bishop
He told an amusing story from his early days as a bishop, when a group of bishops were invited to spend time with the American Management Association in New York over a period of several months. The AMA had never worked with a group of religious leaders before, and the man in charge finally told them, "We’ve tried to tailor a program specifically for you, and we’ve tried to match it up with our normal experience in the business world, and we’ve determined that the category you come closest to, in terms of what we’ve done before, is "regional managers of a small corporation"
This business and management model gives, I think, the best explanation of what is going on. In the American religious market place, TEC’s niche has been that in being Anglican/Episcopalian it offers a mix of historic church tradition (liturgy, bishops, vestments, historic buildings etc) and wider international bonds through the Communion. That, particularly in recent decades, has been combined with a particular "inclusive" stance on key social and ethical issues. In offering this profile it is only now "a small corporation" but one of its claims is that it is - in this understanding - also the sole recognised national branch of a genuine and large multi-national. Its "market share" and "franchise" will, therefore, be greatly threatened if parishes (and now dioceses) escape the legal and constitutional structures of TEC and are able to continue to offer the Anglican combination of historic church tradition (not just in terms of ecclesiological order but also catholic faith and morals) and being part of an international communion within the church catholic. That is why the central offices of the "small corporation" at "815" are doing all they can to prevent their "regional managers" either departing (as in Pittsburgh etc) or allowing their parishes to depart amicably with their property (as in Virginia etc).
I’ve just started reading Miranda Hassett’s recently published study, Anglican Communion in Crisis, which seems to be arguing that it was precisely such a recognition of the importance of the wider Communion that marked the major shift in the strategies of conservative Episcopalians since the late 1990s and (although I remain to be convinced by some of her analysis - may blog when I’ve finished) it appears that the success of this alongside TEC’s fractured relationships with so much of the Communion has left TEC’s structures with no option but to seek to maintain its "monopoly" by using all its internal legal and other provincial powers against those who, out of commitment to the Communion’s teaching on sexuality, distance themselves from TEC.
no longer does the bishop put his signature to the document saying that this new ministry constitutes "an extension of his or her ministry under my ecclesiastical authority." Now it continues, "advance the mission, and do not violate the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church."
This whole mind-set is of course simply further evidence of what many saw expressed in the actions of GC 2003 and the decision of the Presiding Bishop to proceed with the consecration of Gene Robinson after signing the Primates’ Statement at Lambeth in 2003 - the schismatic tearing of the fabric of the Communion to make TEC into an American denomination among the many thousands of others. There is no recognition that TEC’s identity comes from it being part of the universal church and that historic Anglicanism recognises the presence of that church not simply in provincial structures that enforce their own constitution and canons and have historic ties with other provinces but in and through dioceses headed by bishops who profess and defend the catholic faith and seek to be in communion with all those who do likewise. Archbishop Rowan Williams’ important recent letter to Bishop John Howe (a Windsor bishop faced with parishes in his diocese seeking to break away from him not because of his actions but because of the actions of the province) emphasised the importance of the diocese and diocesan bishop in Anglican ecclesiology
I would repeat what I’ve said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing - which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor. Action that fragments their Dioceses will not help the consolidation of that all-important critical mass of ordinary faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church for whose nurture I am so much concerned.
Breaking this up in favour of taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions complicates and embitters the future for this vision.
While the concerns about ’taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions’ also has some force when applied to dioceses, the ecclesiology here makes clear that ultimately ’the provincial structure’ is not primary but the diocese and so presumably dioceses are free - if in conscience they believe they must - to detach themselves from one legal provincial structure in order to affiliate to another.
The tragedy is that TEC’s refusal to respond adequately to The Windsor Report and its rejection of the Pastoral Scheme proposed by all the Primates at Dar means that we are now entering what Archbishop Rowan Williams described (in August 2006, before Dar) as his nightmare scenario:
What will happen to the six or more dioceses in America that have asked for alternative primatial oversight? I don’t know yet. We are working intensively on what this might mean. I don’t want to make up church law on the back of an envelope, because in fact it’s a very complicated situation.
It would constitute a split in the American church. Indeed, and quite a serious one. And I have great concern for the vast majority of Episcopal Christians in the US who don’t wish to move away from the Communion at all, but who don’t particularly want to join a separatist part of their Church either. I want to give them time to find what the best way is.
But these dioceses and the group around them won’t hold out in ECUSA for too long. No, and it is perhaps a rather larger group than some have presented it as being. I know too that if Canterbury doesn’t help, there will be other provinces that are very ready to help. And I don’t especially want to see the Anglican Church becoming like the Orthodox Church, where in some American cities you see the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church. I don’t want to see in the cities of America the American Anglican Church, the Nigerian Anglican Church, the Egyptian Anglican Church and the English Anglican Church in the same street.
It would have reverberations in the Church of England too. Clergy and congregations would have to decide where there loyalties lie. Indeed, and my nightmare is that action is now going forward that will tie us all up in law courts in ten years, in disputes about property. That would take so much energy from what we’re meant to be doing.