Another longish piece, much of which is hiding under the keep reading button.
Boy you get up from the computer for just a little while and all heck breaks loose. In the last three hours, the dioceses of Pittsburgh, San Joaquin and South Carolina have appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for alternative primatial oversight, and the Church of Nigeria has announced that it has elected the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia as the bishop of its North American operation.
I think Dr. Williams release yesterday of a reflection on the future of the Anglican Communion, and his outlining of a two-tiered membership system was intended to head all of this off. Obviously it didn’t.
Can we agree that the timing here is a bit suspicious? (I mean how did they know that I’d be leaving work early to pick up the kids at baseball camp?) And can we also agree that this alternative primatial oversight business is a little silly? The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church doesn’t exercise authority over dioceses. I hope that somewhere in the coverage of this publicity stunt, someone will point out that out.
I said in the post just below this one that I would be happy to see some of the dioceses that are unhappy in the Episcopal Church link up with other provinces in the course of the covenant process that the archbishop outlined yesterday. But I was assuming at the time that the parties to our potential separation would act in good faith.
This isn’t what good faith looks like.
This game may be played at levels I can’t discern, but I can’t imagine that Rowan Williams welcomes this initiative. Thirty-six hours ago, he laid out a comprehensive plan to re-form the government of the communion. This evening, despite media reports that they were “elated” with his proposal, American conservatives have attempted to undermine it by issuing a very public appeal for Williams to insert himself into the internal affairs of a member province without that province’s consent. That can’t be the manner in which he hoped this process would begin. But I don’t know whether it is his way to voice the displeasure he might be feeling.
Meanwhile, the conservative’s Nigerian ally have elected a high profile American conservative as the bishop of what, thus far, has been their barely visible “convocation” in North America, thus formalizing their intention to compete with, rather than co-exist in communion with the Episcopal Church. Again, as I said in the post below, I think boundaries in the Communion that Rowan Williams envisions may become more permeable. I looked forward to seeing how that issue would be worked out over the next few years.
But this is not the kind of amicable agreeing to disagree (and distancing ourselves but not too far) suggested in the Archbishop’s reflection. It is an attempt to poison the atmosphere in the Communion so that the conversations necessary to craft a covenant never take place.
In addition to undermining Williams’ efforts to achieve “the highest degree of communion possible despite our differences,” the concerted actions undertaken today also present a challenge to the Episcopal Church. The primary question being: should we respond in kind? There are ample grounds for presentments against any number of prominent conservatives, but it strikes me that Bishop Duncan in particular is eager to be presented, and that pursuing a presentment simply hands him a bigger megaphone.
On the other hand, there are parishes in the dioceses seeking alternate oversight that want to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church. (I am most familiar with the numbers in Pittsburgh where about 12 or 13 parishes, including some large ones, have opted out of Duncan’s conservative Network.) How much longer do we allow these folks to languish? How do we assure their continuing membership in the Episcopal Church under Episcopal Church leadership as their dioceses pursue separation?
I can’t answer any of these questions. But I do that the conservatives have overplayed their hands as they have been wont to do in the past; that the rest of the Archbishop and the rest of the Communion will perceive today’s activities as a calculated bit of business aimed at fomenting further upheaval and that a loss of credibility will ensue.
I should mention that Father Jake has a decidedly different take on the role of the Archbishop in today’s festivities. And Simon Sarmiento has, as always, an excellent round up, which includes a quote from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold that I cna’t find on episcopalchurch.org.
“I find the action by the Standing Committee and Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh unsurprising and altogether consistent with their implicit intention of walking apart from the Episcopal Church. The urgency of their appeal indicates an unwillingness to be part of the process of formulating a covenant so clearly set forth in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s reflection. I would very much hope that they would remain part of the Episcopal Church as we, along with the other provinces of the Communion, explore our Anglican identity – as the Archbishop has invited us to do.