Bonnie Anderson, President of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, writes to all diocesan deputations before their conventions. Her letter to the deputies of South Carolina touches on some of the peculiar interpretations of the Episcopal Church’s constitution and canons that inform some of the resolutions that the diocese will consider at a special convention on Saturday. To read the letter, click Read more.
October 22, 2009
Dear Diocese of South Carolina Deputies and First Alternates,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. It was good to be with you at General Convention to get to know you a bit better and watch your thoughtful participation in the legislative process. Thank you for all you brought to the work of the House of Deputies.
I am writing to you regarding the five resolutions proposed for consideration at your upcoming Convention on October 24th. The resolutions have come to my attention and I wanted to be in touch with you about them. Several of them, especially Resolutions 3 and 4 speak of developing mission initiatives, partnership and relationships throughout the Episcopal Church, North America and the Anglican Communion. The Diocese has a strong commitment to mission. The continued commitment to mission is one we clearly share as evidenced by our work in that area at General Convention. Thank you for this continued commitment.
Looking at Resolutions 1 and 2 in particular and at Resolutions 1-4 as a whole, entitled “Guiding Principles for Engagement,” I am concerned that some in the Diocese are seeking through these resolutions to move the Diocese out of the full life of the Episcopal Church and perhaps even see the resolutions as steps preliminary in attempting to separate the Diocese from the Church. I fervently pray that is not what is intended. Several of these resolutions are similar to resolutions adopted by dioceses in which the bishop and some Church members have claimed that the diocese has left the Episcopal Church. While individuals have left the Episcopal Church, dioceses have not, and to do so would require the permission of General Convention.
I am concerned that several of the proposed resolutions contain misleading statements or assert positions that are in conflict with those of this Church. For example, in Resolution 1 in the third Whereas, the language referred to comes from the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer which states “This Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline or worship; or further than local circumstances require.” The emphasized words were not included in the Whereas or in any part of the Resolution. Without the omitted language, someone reading the Resolution could come away with the idea that no departures from the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church of England are permitted at all when the expectation has always been that alterations would be made. The Preface, set forth in October 1789, acknowledges our debt to the Church of England for this Church’s “first foundation and a long continuance of nursing care and protection” and goes on to quote from the Preface of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England at that time that “the Forms of Divine Worship are alterable and changes should be made according to the various exigency of times and occasions.”
The proposed addition of a statement of understanding of the meaning of the Constitution’s Article VIII Oath of Conformity is of concern for several reasons. The actual Oath in the Constitution is not included in the Resolution and it is unlikely many delegates or even clergy to your Convention will look it up. I encourage you to inform the Convention of the contents of the Oath so it can consider the proposed resolution in light of what the Constitution already requires. The Oath recited is:
I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church.
The items referred to in the proposed understanding, or most of them, are set forth in the Book of Common Prayer in the section entitled “Historical Documents of the Church.” The Creed of Saint Athanasius, Preface to the Church of England First Book of Common Prayer of 1549, and the Thirty-Nine Articles are not part of the doctrine, discipline, or worship of The Episcopal Church. To the extent that “the Creeds” in the proposed resolution refer to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, they are already recognized as part of the doctrine of this Church. The Episcopal Church’s Doctrine, according to the Canons, is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.” The documents listed in the proposed understanding do not fall within this definition. The Church’s Discipline, according to our Canons, is “found in the Constitution, the Canons, and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer”. Again, the listed documents are not included in our definition of Discipline. The proposed understanding is inconsistent with the definitions we have of Doctrine and Discipline and attempt to add matters to the Church’s Doctrine and Discipline that are not a part of them. Adoption of this proposed resolution risks creating misunderstanding among both clergy and lay of the meaning of the Church’s Doctrine, Discipline and Worship; of suggesting that the Church holds as authoritative and binding things that it does not.
Regarding proposed Resolution 2, there certainly are different interpretations and understandings being given to resolutions D025 and C056. It is not uncommon for people to interpret actions of General Convention differently. On the issues addressed in the two resolutions, the Church has acknowledged that it is not of one mind. However, declaring actions of General Convention to be null and void and having no effect in a diocese is contrary to our polity and our Constitution and Canons. All dioceses must make an unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. The General Convention is the governing body of the Church and the authority of all other entities and offices comes from General Convention. So, adoption of a resolution declaring an action of General Convention null and void is itself, a nullity. Actions of General Convention are binding on dioceses regardless of whether their bishops and deputies voted for or against them, agree with them or even participated in General Convention. The Executive Council considered this matter during the last triennium regarding dioceses that had adopted amendments to their Constitutions purporting to limit or lessen the unqualified accession of the Diocese to the Constitution and Canons of the Church. Resolution NAC 023 adopted June 14, 2007 states:
Resolved, That the Executive Council, meeting in Parsippany, New Jersey from June 11-14, 2007, reminds the dioceses of The Episcopal Church that Article V, Section 1 of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church requires each Diocese to have a Constitution which shall include “an unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church;” and be it further
Resolved, That any amendment to a diocesan Constitution that purports in any way to limit or lessen an unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church is null and void; and be it further
Resolved, That the amendments passed to the Constitutions of the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth, Quincy, and San Joaquin, which purport to limit or lessen the unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church are accordingly null and void and the Constitutions of those dioceses shall be as they were as if such amendments had not been passed.
While what your Convention will consider is a resolution and not a constitutional amendment, the principle is the same. A diocese is, of course, free to express its disagreement with an action of General Convention and to work to change it but it may not declare it to be null and void and of no effect in the diocese.
The resolve in proposed Resolution 2 to begin withdrawing from bodies of the Church is likely counter-productive. The views and voices of the Diocese and Bishop will be absent from the Church’s continuing discussion and discernment of these and other issues. Withdrawing will decrease the opportunities for dialogues in which we discover that we are all committed to Christ’s mission and ministry. At ordinations of priests the bishop describes the work of a priest as including “to take your share in the councils of the Church.” Bishops at their ordinations promise to “share with your fellow bishops in the government of the whole Church.” Priests and Bishops are called to be part of the councils and government of the Church, not to withdraw from them. We believe that the Holy Spirit works through the councils and gatherings of the Church. I encourage the Diocese of South Carolina to stay involved, stay active, and participate in the full life of The Episcopal Church, including its governance structures, so that we may embody the unity we all share in Christ to the greatest extent possible.
It is my prayer that Resolutions 1-4 are not steps being proposed to move the Diocese away from The Episcopal Church and towards efforts by others to create an alternate Anglican structure in our midst. While affirming the call to mission partnerships across churches across North America and in the wider Communion, I hope that those will not be used as a substitute for living within The Episcopal Church or to undermine in any way the life of The Episcopal Church.
I am blessed to be a part of God’s Church with you. I hold you and the great Diocese of South Carolina in my daily thoughts and prayers. I pray your diocesan convention is one of joy and thanksgiving.
Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, The House of Deputies