Skip to comments.General Convention 2006: Clarity, At Last - But No Calm
Posted on 07/17/2006 5:03:58 PM PDT by sionnsar
Despite its liberal leaders' best efforts, the Episcopal General Convention failed to hide its reluctance to come into line with the wider Communion, thereby triggering an intense new season of struggle and change in world Anglicanism. As many U.S. conservatives seek a new type of interim oversight, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself proposes a long-range realignment plan that could marginalize liberals. But separatist impulses threaten in the heart of the global South - which wants sooner, sterner action - and now even among some pro-gay liberals. Could the Episcopal Church become the nucleus of a rival Communion?
By Auburn Faber Traycik With Contributions from David W. Virtue, Hans Zeiger, And Dr. Peter Toon
WRITING WITH "sadness" as well as "anticipation," prominent Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan recently said that, "by almost every assessment," the June 13-21 Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, had "embraced the course of 'walking apart'" from the Anglican Communion.
Indeed, it was hard for many observers to conclude otherwise, given the totality of evidence from the 75th corporate gathering of the Episcopal Church (now going by the acronym TEC instead of ECUSA, on which more later). All of what seemed to be top-level efforts going into the convention to try to keep TEC's seat at the Communion "table" by at least appearing to meet the 2004 Windsor Report expectations - including calls for moratoria on actively gay bishops and public same-sex blessings - fell short, producing what is widely seen as an inadequate response to the wider Communion.
This, despite an 11th hour push-through of a resolution calling for diocesan bishops and standing committees to "exercise restraint by not consenting the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate" whose "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." Adopted following an extraordinary joint session called by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold in the convention's final hours, the resolution (B033) carries a high degree of non-credibility, since the House of Deputies had soundly defeated a similar call for restraint on gay bishops (and blessings) the day before.
Indeed, the fragile consensus on B033 quickly started to unravel: Some 30 liberal bishops signed a statement saying they would not be bound by the resolution, and the Diocese of Newark promptly defied it by naming an active homosexual among candidates to succeed Bishop Jack Croneberger. Meanwhile, 24 conservative prelates, serving and retired, disassociated themselves from what they saw as the fraudulent attempt to convince the church overseas that TEC was embracing a moratorium. General Convention, it seems, was an equal opportunity offender.
The convention concluded, moreover, without any official call to stop the public blessing of homosexual unions. Queried about this at a press conference June 21, Bishop Griswold reportedly said he did not anticipate any change to the decision made three years ago - evidently referring to 2003 General Convention Resolution C051, which allows "local faith communities" to "explore" and "experience" same-sex blessing liturgies. While attempts continued in Columbus to claim that TEC has not authorized such liturgies - true, in a churchwide sense - it is under the rubric of C051that such ceremonies have continued, and blessing rites have been or are being developed, in various dioceses around the country, says the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC).
And if the goal of liberal hierarchs was for the convention to feign compliance with the Windsor Report, the House of Bishops (HOB) did not get the memo on June 18, when they stunned nearly everyone by electing a "dark horse candidate," the highly revisionist, pro-gay, feminist Nevada Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, to succeed Griswold as presiding bishop. It was a historic, but divisive, act that was in itself a repudiation of the Windsor Report, one bishop told TCC.
As conservative leaders also pointed out, Jefferts Schori's election - promptly confirmed by an ebullient House of Deputies - also risks a double alienation of fellow Anglican primates (provincial leaders), some of whom do not accept women priests and the majority of whom do not recognize women bishops. (Fourteen of 38 Anglican provinces are said to have allowed for female prelates, but only three have or have had them, and women's ordination is still officially an unsettled question in the Communion). Introducing a woman into the primatial college will significantly change its character, enough that it may cause the absence of some primates. As well, it is possible that bishops for whom Jefferts Schori will serve as chief consecrator (almost all of them during her tenure) will be acceptable as bishops only in the U.S. and a few provinces outside of it.
These problems were effectively acknowledged by the Archbishop of Canterbury's lukewarm reaction to the new P.B., which offered prayers but no congratulations. "Her election," said Dr. Rowan Williams, "will undoubtedly have an impact on the collegial life of the Anglican primates; and it also brings into focus some continuing issues in several of our ecumenical dialogues." Roman Catholic ecumenical leader, Walter Cardinal Kasper, recently warned the Church of England that admitting women bishops would make shared communion "unreachable" and unity impossible.
"It is unbelievable that they would have done something this provocative when there are so many other global issues still to be straightened out," said an Anglican in South East Asia (where women are in active ministry but not ordained).
Virginia cleric, the Rev. Martyn Minns of the AAC, said he was "grateful for the clarity that this vote demonstrates. But I'm sad, because it seems that Bishop Schori is against everything that Windsor is for."
TEC "has continued to press on without any obvious concern for the fragile state of the...Communion," said Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman, president of the traditionalist Forward in Faith, North America (FIF-NA), a part of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) led by Bishop Duncan.
But for TEC - a body deeply habituated to effecting revisionist "firsts" - the first women priests (illegally ordained in 1974), the first female Anglican bishop, the first openly gay bishop - electing the Communion's first woman primate may have seemed an irresistible temptation at a time when it was under international pressure to rollback its gay agenda. Indeed, the timing was perfect: The president of the gay Episcopal group, Integrity, the Rev. Susan Russell, noted that Jefferts Schori's election came on Father's Day, and as the church was celebrating the 30th anniversary of TEC's approval of women priests and bishops.
There were claims that the election was engineered by liberal Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno, but also that at least four conservative prelates and possibly a few more actually joined in voting for Jefferts Schori "for the sake of clarity," to show "where this church really is," one source told TCC. However, it is not clear that the election outcome would have changed had the conservatives voted differently (on the fifth and final ballot in the House of Bishops, Schori drew 95 votes to Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley's 82 votes). There were seven candidates in all.
Orthodox Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker said that on the last ballot some ACN bishops were still voting for the more conservative Bishops of Louisiana or Colombia. And Peter Frank, a spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said Network bishops had no unified voting strategy going into the election, because "there were no obvious choices for presiding bishop from their perspective."
JEFFERTS SCHORI is a wife, mother, aviator, former Roman Catholic and former oceanographer, who seems to have a good deal of personal appeal and intelligence; among other things, she speaks Spanish and French fluently. However, the presiding bishop-elect (who will begin her duties in November) has been ordained for only 12 years and a bishop for five, and has never been a rector. Though in a "booming" state, her diocese is small and showing little growth. And it is not hard to discern why the AAC termed her "perhaps the most liberal of the candidates."
In her first sermon following her confirmation, Jefferts Schori declared "Our Mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation. And you and I are His children." And, she believes the "great message of Jesus" is to "include the un-included."
That "is so outside orthodox Christianity," said columnist Cal Thomas, "that only biblical illiterates or those who deny the supreme authority of the only book that gives foundation to the faith will accept it."
The new P.B. thinks the church's primary focus should be on alleviating the suffering of the poor, sick and undereducated. "I don't find anything there which the local Rotary Club doesn't offer me," commented Southern Cone Archbishop Gregory Venables.
Jefferts Schori believes homosexuality is not a sin, and that homosexuals were created by God to love persons of the same gender; while at the convention she attended the Eucharist held by Integrity, which drew over 1,000 Episcopal bishops, clergy and laity. At the 2003 General Convention, she voted against a resolution affirming basic tenets of Christian faith and the authority of Scripture, and for the consecration of gay cleric Gene Robinson and local option on same-sex blessings, decisions which sparked the crisis in the Communion and led to the Windsor Report (TWR). As Anglican primates (provincial leaders) met to deal with the crisis in London in October 2003, she was supporting a resolution allowing same-sex blessings at her diocesan convention. This does not bode well "for her having a sensitivity to the larger Communion," the AAC said, though she insists she will "bend over backward to build relationships with people who disagree with me."
Wrote Cal Thomas: "Maybe the question for Bishop Schori and her fellow heretics should be: if homosexual practice is not sin, what is? And how do we know? Or is it a matter of 'thus saith the opinion polls' and lobbying groups, rather than 'thus saith the Lord'?"
TO TOP THINGS OFF, the House of Bishops (HOB) overwhelmingly refused June 20 to consider a resolution (D058) that would affirm Jesus Christ as "the only name by which any person may be saved." The convention also took a few swipes at Scripture, saying new materials were needed to counteract its "anti-Jewish" prejudices (C001), and favoring methods of Biblical interpretation "which do not lend support to oppressive systems" (C040). In A095, the convention voted to oppose "any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions" - a "back door" endorsement of gay "marriage," some said. Meanwhile, it okayed a thrice-married man with a twice-married wife, Canon Barry Beisner, as Bishop of the Diocese of Northern California - even though a minority report was issued opposing his approval, which would seem to be at odds with the "manner of life" objection in B033. Last but not least, an attempt to remove the church from membership in the pro-abortion Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (D063) apparently died in the Social and Urban Affairs Committee. This, despite the fact that the convention was told that TEC "may be in systemic decline" [A5](B023)[A4] and "has the lowest birth rate and highest mean age of any mainline denomination."
"The Middle Has Collapsed"
TEC's entrenched liberalism notwithstanding, the outcome was startling. In the run-up to the massive Columbus confab (which drew some 7,000 persons, including 1,400 voting bishops, clergy and lay delegates), many expected a fudge of the first order - a sufficient-looking response to TWR that would not actually change TEC's direction. TEC leaders want to stay in conversation with the Communion, believing they can eventually convert most of it to their viewpoint, one conservative leader said; and besides, being linked with a world fellowship with historic cathedrals engenders credibility they do not want to lose. But many conservatives concluded that - however unintentionally - the convention had provided the "clarity" for which the faithful had long prayed.
Despite the time it had to consider its 2003 decisions and the Windsor Report, TEC "proved incapable of giving a response even partly in line with the Report until the last minute, and then only under great pressure," noted the Rev. Dr. Andrew Goddard of the Anglican Institute.
"While we had hoped that this church would repent and return to received Faith and Order, General Convention 2006 clearly failed to submit to the call, the spirit or the requirements of the Windsor Report," said Bishop Duncan, Moderator of the ACN, which includes ten Episcopal dioceses and more than 900 congregations, most of them still in TEC but some 70 now outside of it. "The middle has collapsed" and we are clearly "two churches under one roof."
The "status quo is now impossible," said the conservative Diocese of South Carolina's Standing Committee. Relationships "have now been so strained that we are no longer in impaired, but rather broken communion."
There are and will be attempts to "spin" it otherwise, but TEC "is not turning back," Bishop Iker said.
"This General Convention...has not...answered the Windsor Report recommendations with sufficient clarity or resolve to maintain the bonds of affection that hold the...Communion together," said the Diocese of Dallas' Standing Committee.
Even the moderate Living Church magazine said the language of B033 "does not address the moratorium on [consecrating] homosexual bishops."
Others noted that B033 does not directly address the "manner of life" Windsor specified, same-gender unions.
The Communion "asked for simple, unambiguous compliance with the Windsor Report, specifically an expression of regret for decisions made in 2003 and subsequent actions, as well as [the] moratoria...The Episcopal Church did not deliver," said AAC President, the Rev. Canon David Anderson.
Anderson thought B033 was a "charade." TEC "wants to be Anglican, but it doesn't want anybody telling it how to do church. And that's a tension that's pulling it apart."
B033 was "a mere smokescreen" when seen in light of "the overall tenor of the convention's words and actions," said Springfield (IL) Bishop Peter Beckwith.
Some members of the Anglican Church in America, a Continuing Church body, gathered at St. Paul's Cathedral in Portland, Maine, in late June for a Requiem Mass "in observance of the death of the Episcopal Church."
International figures also weighed in. In an open letter to TEC on behalf of the primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola lauded the General Convention for ways in which it expressed affection for the life and work of the Communion and concern to "meet the needs of the poor throughout the world." However, the Archbishop said that reports of the convention's elections and actions suggest that TEC is "unable to embrace the essential recommendations of the Windsor Report and the 2005 primates' communique necessary for the healing of our divisions." He reminded that all four Anglican "instruments of unity" (the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Primates' Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council) advised against the kind of decisions taken at the 2003 General Convention.
Archbishop Venables said that the election of Jefferts Schori in itself had "provided...abundant clarity [about] the commitments and direction" of the Episcopal Church.
Critiques and lamentations were not lacking, either, among gays and their supporters, who were shaken by the strong-armed passage of B033, however insincerely adopted..
In a pastoral letter to supporters, Bishop Robinson scored B033 as "more prohibitive" than the resolution the Deputies had rejected the day before (which called on the church to "refrain from" consecrating gay bishops) and Bishop Griswold for his "heavy-handed" promotion of the resolution. And even while lauding Jefferts Schori's election, he cited concern about her role in pushing B033.
"Keeping us in conversation with the Anglican Communion was the goal - for which the price was declaring gay and lesbian people unfit material for the episcopate. Only time will tell whether or not even that was accomplished," Robinson said.
Some liberal or moderate bishops have maintained that TEC did essentially what Windsor asked it to do. Florida Bishop John Howard, whose diocese has lost the better part of ten congregations, wrote his flock that the convention had "acted decisively" and that B033 effectively invoked a moratorium in gay bishops. Virginia Bishop Peter Lee wrote that "the center has held." However, the days that such bishops can pretend things are okay seem to be numbered.
A "Slow-Burning Schism"?
Indeed, the convention swiftly set off paroxysms of struggle and change in the Communion. On June 27, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a heavyweight "reflection" on the Communion's future. In it, Dr. Williams effectively recognized a split by backing the development of a common covenant that would ultimately delineate the theological majority and minority in inner and outer circles of the Communion - a clear bid to avoid a total parting of the ways.
Williams was building on TWR's recommendation that such a pact be formulated to help ensure unity among the provinces that adopt it. He wants the 2008 Lambeth Conference to directly address the proposal.
He said his reflection is not intended to preempt the wider Communion's assessment of TEC's response to Windsor - though he himself concluded that, despite the "extremely hard work" put into them, the resolutions General Convention adopted do not represent "a complete response" to TWR. And he said the debate that has troubled the Communion is not human rights for homosexuals, which should be defended, but about how the church makes decisions in a responsible way.
He said, for example, that no church "can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference on how it is regarded in the fellowship." And: "There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment."
He thus proposed a future in which the Communion would be united around a covenant of agreed theological understandings and mutual submission. Provinces opting into the pact would remain full "constituent" members of the Communion and involved in its decision making, while provinces opting out would be reduced to "associate" status. The relationship between the two types of provinces would be similar to that between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, he said.
This "two-tier" plan could restore some integrity in the areas of doctrine and communion, while seemingly averting total disintegration of the Anglican Communion, and maybe even salvaging some funding for the Communion budget. But the change could effectively isolate not just TEC but other liberal Anglican provinces such as Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and Scotland. Such provinces would be free to push ahead with divisive innovations, but would have to accept being edged out of positions of power in the Communion or cut ties with it.
More remarkably, Archbishop Williams acknowledged that the fault lines between those who could agree to abide by common standards and those who could not would not just run between provinces, but within them; hence, there may be a need within those provinces for an "ordered and mutually respectful separation between 'constituent' and 'associated' elements." This seemingly provides an official nod and path for the first time for an institutional partition of U.S. revisionists and conservatives, though Williams can only urge and not impose such a solution.
In the U.S., many conservatives were gratified, while liberals seemed stunned. How, some Episcopal clergy and laity wondered, could the vast majority of TEC be displaced from its "rightful spot in the Communion" by conservatives?
Presiding Bishop Griswold voiced support for a covenant but pointedly stated that the "conclusion of this lengthy process is now unknown." Subsequently, in a bitter but fascinating statement, he said the two-tiered approach "suggests to me amputated limbs and severed branches without any life-giving relationship to the One who is the source of all life."
And in a memorable response to Dr. Williams' paper, Integrity's Susan Russell said: "The most important choice we face now is whether we will spend the next three years focusing on Mother Church or - in the words of our Presiding Bishop-elect, on Mother Jesus. We cannot live up to our call to be the body of Christ in the world if we're spending all our time, energy, and resources arguing about how to be the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion."
Ironically, General Convention backed the covenant idea (in Resolution A166), though (as Griswold's comment indicates) this poses little problem for TEC right now, since it is expected to take six to eight years for a workable covenant to be drafted and approved by most provinces.
And therein lies the catch for conservatives. One report said Williams' proposal set the stage for a "slow-burning schism" - one that might militate against a near-term assessment of TEC's Communion status by Anglican primates, rather allowing TEC's eventual decision to accept or reject the covenant to make that determination.
Nigeria: Remove "Cancerous Lump"
If protracted delay in dealing with the TEC problem is what Dr. Williams has in mind, though, it is likely to be a hard-sell among conservative Anglican leaders, even though most of them generally welcomed his paper.
As one well-placed English source said: "It seems to me that preparations for the future [must] begin with the exclusion of [TEC], which will have to apply to join the covenant when it is implemented."
Archbishop Akinola announced in his post-convention letter to TEC that global South primates will gather in September to offer their "concerted pastoral and structural response." That is likely to set the course for the formal Primates' Meeting in February 2007 in Tanzania. In the interim, Akinola assured "scripturally faithful [U.S.] dioceses and congregations alienated and marginalized within your own provincial structure that [CAPA primates have] heard their cries."
But the Nigerian Church hit hard in more recent statements which telegraphed a demand for prompt exclusion of TEC, and indicated the Nigerians would back a rival 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops if Archbishop Williams cannot bring the American Church to heel - thus raising the specter of a separatist movement. The comments were the more significant in that they cite not just TEC but the Anglican Church of Canada and the "Mother" Church of England as among provinces harboring bishops who have "abandoned...Biblical faith"; Akinola has chided the C of E for allowing clergy to register same-sex civil unions if they pledge not to have sex.
In one recent statement, the Nigerian Church expressed appreciation for Dr. Williams' attempt to find an acceptable way to accommodate a wide breadth of theological opinion, but said those deviating from authentic Anglicanism should be urged to return to it. It said the "mere fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury now proposes a two-tier membership," centered around a covenant, for the Communion "is his acceptance that the wound caused by the revisionists has become difficult, if not impossible, to heal." But, the statement said: "A cancerous lump in the body should be excised if it has defied every known cure. To attempt to condition the whole body to accommodate it will lead to the avoidable death of the patient."
The June 27-28 Synod of the Church of Nigeria empowered the province's leaders to assent to the Anglican covenant, saying, however, that the "onslaught" against the faith by the American, Canadian and English provinces makes the need to "redefine and/or redetermine those who are truly Anglicans...urgent, imperative and compelling."
Further, however, the Synod raised a question about the "moral justification" of holding Lambeth '08 under current circumstances. It seems to assume that revisionist bishops from the three northern provinces will be invited to Lambeth, and therefore calls on CAPA to plan a potential alternative "Conference of all Anglican bishops."
Significantly, however, if other global South provinces feel the same way, they have not said so - a fact that could portend difficulties in reaching a consensus at the September meeting of southern primates.
"Orthodox theology is ardently shared among those primates, but we don't know about tactics and timing," issues upon which there must be agreement as well, to prevent "fracturing," one conservative leader told TCC.
The Southern Cone's Archbishop Venables seemed fairly optimistic about the September meeting, however. He said that, among the few primates with whom he had spoken, "nobody's under any illusion" about the outcome of General Convention.
And Venables indicated his expectation that the September meeting would address the "real, present-day crisis" in TEC. "Whilst we need to work on the whole question of a covenant and future realignment, the meeting also needs to address the immediate question, which is the status of TEC within the Anglican Communion," he said. "As well, the so-far non-stop departures of faithful Anglicans and the persecution of those who are struggling to maintain their loyal position within [TEC] has to be not only considered but put right. All of this," Venables concluded, "makes quibbles over boundaries and jurisdictions a very minor...issue."
U.S.: "Primatial" Oversight Sought
Several U.S. conservative leaders also expressed concern about any delay in determining TEC's Communion status, but were buoyed by indications in Williams' paper that they have a more assured prospect for continued full membership in the Communion.
The AAC, for example, lauded Williams' long-range proposal as "the way to ensure clear theological and doctrinal unity." But it also called for Anglican leaders to meet the "urgent need" of American faithful "for temporary emergency pastoral protection through cross-provincial oversight." The AAC said it is hearing daily from those wanting to leave TEC for faithful Anglican jurisdictions outside of it or outside of the Communion - or for other denominations or no church at all. "We fear tens of thousands of individuals will be lost from Anglicanism forever unless immediate, though interim, intervention is provided."
And in terms of interim intervention, it is definitely a new day. In a clear statement against Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori, eight of ten Network-aligned Episcopal dioceses - Fort Worth, San Joaquin (CA), Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Springfield, Central Florida, Dallas, and Albany - had appealed at this writing to Archbishop Williams, the primates, and the international Panel of Reference for immediate alternate primatial oversight - a first in the Communion for anyone still in TEC. The move (which seeks a pastoral, not legal, arrangement) is also seen as an attempt to avoid impaired communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the wider Communion as a result of the General Convention. Indeed, Dallas Bishop James Stanton has petitioned for direct oversight by Archbishop Williams "for the purpose of mission, pastoral support, and accountability." Similar appeals were likely from the two other Network-aligned Episcopal dioceses.
Archbishop Williams is considering the appeals through "various consultations" (though the Communion's current polity and the Panel's slowness do not appear to favor them). But Pittsburgh leaders said they were calling for such oversight in search of "a unifying solution...to preserve an authentic Anglican community of witness within the [U.S.A.] and provide pastoral and apostolic care to biblically orthodox Anglicans in this country regardless of geographical location."
More dramatically, pending ratification by the November diocesan convention, Pittsburgh leaders, acting under Article VII of the church's constitution, withdrew the diocese from TEC's Province III (one of nine regional groupings of Episcopal dioceses). This, in the hope of becoming part of a new Tenth Province of TEC "which is fully Windsor compliant, positioned with that part of [TEC] determined to maintain constituent status in the Anglican Communion." The move would not change the diocese's legal status or affiliation but would "make clear...with which body in the Episcopal Church we stand," Bishop Duncan said.
In response, Bishop Griswold called Pittsburgh's action "consistent with their implicit intention of walking apart from the Episcopal Church."
The proposal that TEC establish a tenth, non-geographical province for those who uphold the historic faith is not new: it was repeatedly promoted without success some years ago by the precursor organization of the traditionalist FIF-NA. Already, the presiding bishop-elect has reportedly said that no such plan could be considered until the 2009 General Convention. And the plan is bound to spark questions and criticism from those who cannot fathom retaining any connection to TEC at this stage, and feel that some conservatives are too prone to allow Christian convictions and evangelism to be compromised by property concerns.
However - if current circumstances can give the Province X proposal traction it has not had up to now - it may be "an important first step to separating formally when it is possible to do so without provoking a legal Armageddon," as one informed observer put it. Indeed the proposal may allow enough time and space for the post-convention situation to clarify, and for liberals to start to see the desirability of the ordered separation suggested by Dr. Williams. Helping that along could be changing legal perspectives on TEC's "Dennis Canon" on church property which could flow from a primatial declaration that, save for its faithful remnant, TEC has left the Communion; that change would place TEC in violation of its constitution.
A Nigerian Plant In America
Meanwhile, if any question remained about Archbishop Akinola's assessment of the convention, it was answered in his and his fellow bishops' late June move to tap the British-born Canon Martyn Minns, who plans to retire as rector of the conservative Truro Church, Fairfax, Virginia, as missionary bishop for the Convocation for Anglicans in North America (CANA), a cluster of some 20 U.S. parishes that minister to expatriate Nigerian Anglicans. The convocation is also intended to serve other U.S.-based African Anglicans - and could be enlarged to include congregations fleeing the 2.4 million-member TEC, noted The Washington Times.
Akinola has appointed a team of three other bishops led by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Kwashi to coordinate episcopal visitors from Nigeria to work alongside Minns in this newly developing aspect of Anglican realignment (albeit one that could take on greater import if Nigeria's rival Lambeth idea is carried forward in other ways. There are no clear signs that it will be at present, however, and Canon Minns was away and unavailable for comment about it when TCC called.)
It was in 2004 that Akinola first said he was launching the convocation for Nigerian Anglicans unable to find a compatible spiritual home in TEC, though he said it was open to any faithful Anglican. He said the Nigerian convocation was not unlike the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.
The selection of Minns, 63, as bishop for CANA had been rumored for months. Akinola said, "We have deliberately held back from this action" in the hope of better from TEC, but the 2006 General Convention had shown that "far from turning back, [Episcopalians] are even more committed to pursuing their unbiblical revisionist agenda." He linked Minns' appointment to the "tradition of missionary bishops that has always been an essential part of Anglicanism." No consecration date for the Virginia cleric had been announced by deadline.
Not surprisingly, Minns' election was not welcomed by Bishop Lee of Virginia, or Lambeth Palace, which said it merely complicated matters. Among conservatives, FIF-NA welcomed the appointment and pledged cooperation, but at least five primates were reportedly "ticked" about it, and the Network had no official comment except to say that Minns is "a gifted leader." One report contended that several Network bishops were hoping he would not accept the episcopal post on the grounds that it would violate the Windsor Report and place conservatives at odds with an Archbishop of Canterbury they consider sympathetic to their situation.
DOUBTLESS to Bishop Lee's great consternation, word of Minns' election for CANA was accompanied by reports that the 2,300-member Truro, and another large and historic parish, Falls Church, and most of up to some 20 other Diocese of Virginia parishes would make a final decision about whether or not to leave TEC following a 40-day "discernment" period of prayer, fasting and debate this fall.
Truro and the Falls Church have a combined $27 million in assets. Bishop Lee has previously threatened to sue any church that tries to leave the 90,000-member diocese, the country's largest, with its property. But Falls Church rector, the Rev. John Yates, is part of a six-person team of negotiators - conservatives and liberals - trying to "figure out how conservatives can depart without bankrupting themselves or the diocese through lawsuits," as The Washington Times put it.
In other initial fallout, TEC's largest parish, the some 4,500-member Christ Church, Plano, Texas, announced it would "disassociate" from the national church, with details of that to be announced later, though the parish intends to remain within the Communion. The move has the support and cooperation of Dallas' Bishop Stanton.
In other post-convention vicissitudes, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey canceled a conference on the future of the Communion that was to be held July 15 at All Saints', Chevy Chase, Maryland, citing "developments in the Episcopal Church" and the ongoing delicate nature of talks between Dr. Williams and TEC leaders. Bishop Duncan was also scheduled to speak at the meeting.
As well, Lay Episcopalians for the Anglican Communion (LEAC) called off a campaign to pursue formal ecclesiastical charges against Episcopal bishops who consecrated Gene Robinson, saying the "terminal meltdown" of TEC sparked by the convention rendered the effort "moot." It will now focus on trying to help Episcopal laity understand what has happened so they can make constructive choices for their church lives.
Beyond all this, what's next for the Network and U.S. conservatives generally?
Conservative fortunes will pivot significantly on what the primates say about TEC's membership in the Communion in the near term, and Williams' position in regard to that assessment, and his handling of invitations to Lambeth '08, which (as the Nigerian position indicates) will help shape the future Communion at large.
Issues related to property are a persistent albeit controversial concern, as earlier indicated. But influencing current conservative actions more strongly, it appears, is a desire to avoid doing anything that might place their Communion membership in question. This might in fact be one of the few areas in which conservative and liberal leaders agree; neither side wants to end up in isolation, or reduced to the status of sect (though in terms of sheer numbers in relation to U.S. population, TEC has already reached that point).
Hence, while no unified post-convention strategy has yet been articulated by the Network - discussions about it were to continue at a July 31-August 2 meeting of ACN bishops in Pittsburgh - Network dioceses probably will not leave TEC in the near term. They will "remain the dioceses they have been, constitutionally and legally, while at the same time assessing how to give ever more pastoral care and protection to those who have been shut out," Bishop Duncan said. However, conservatives as a whole, especially faithful congregations, still appear likely to continue choosing different routes toward what many hope is a common destination, an institutionally-distinct, Communion-recognized entity for faithful U.S. Anglicans.
The AAC wrote its constituents that, "despite their best efforts to feign Windsor compliance, ECUSA has made its choice, and now we must unite and act to ensure a biblically faithful expression of Anglicanism in America. Whether you are in [TEC], are in the process of disaffiliating, or are under oversight of another Anglican province, we are committed to assisting you to go from strength to strength. The war is over; it is time to build the church."
Duncan said the ACN will continue efforts to gather into fellowship and mission orthodox Anglicans from within TEC, the Common Cause Partnership (organizations and orthodox extramural Anglican bodies linked to the Network) and Continuing Anglican churches.
"While there are likely difficult times ahead, we can rest assured that, when all is said and done, there will be a place for us in the worldwide Anglican Communion," Duncan said. "What can you do right now? Do the mission."
"Liberals May Split From Canterbury"?
Yet just as pressing in the post-convention period as what conservatives in the U.S. and abroad will do are new signs that northern liberals, who now may be losing their struggle for dominance in the Communion, are themselves considering the formation of a trans-jurisdictional liberal Network, and possibly their own brand of schism.
A recent Daily Telegraph story reported that liberal clergy in Britain may turn to America's Anglican bishops for leadership in the wake of indications in Archbishop Williams' paper that they could be marginalized in the Communion. According to the story - headlined "Liberals may split from Canterbury over homosexuals" - a "delegation of influential liberals" flew out to Columbus during the General Convention to discuss building closer ties with U.S. counterparts.
"Leading figures from both sides of the Atlantic," including liberal Canadian Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, then held talks in late June to discuss their reaction to Williams' comments. (Hutchison was also at General Convention, as were a few other possibles for the liberal talks, including Canada's Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham.)
Among ideas discussed were the twinning of English and American parishes, and inviting more clergy from the U.S. to come to England. More significantly - taking a cue from North American conservatives who have sought likeminded foreign oversight - the liberal conferees also discussed "the radical possibility of an American bishop 'overseeing' a liberal parish [in England] whose members feel marginalized by the imposition of traditional beliefs."
The ultra-liberal Dean of Southwark, the Very Rev. Colin Slee, said there would be "civil war" in the C of E if Williams pushed through his plans for a biblically conservative covenant that excluded the Communion's liberal wing.
"We are on the brink of a breaking point in the Church of England," Slee was quoted as saying. "Liberals have been tolerant and permissive of other points of view," he claimed, "and what they have to realize is that their liberality must be defended.
"I think we'll see over the next three years liberals worldwide beginning to work together to defend the true Anglican heart, which is broad, tolerant and generous and is under attack."
ALL OF WHICH seems to jibe with hints at the Episcopal General Convention that, despite the desperate 11th hour effort to aver the loss of TEC's Communion standing, liberal hierarchs may have a "Plan B" for such an eventuality - one that could see TEC and liberals internationally making new arrangements.
The first sign of this came with the announcement in Columbus that what has long been known as ECUSA (though its formal name is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America) will now be known by the short version of its name cited in the preamble of its constitution, The Episcopal Church (TEC). Then there was the fact that 16 flags conspicuously formed the backdrop of the dais in the House of Deputies.
The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, bishop in charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, pointedly commented during the convention that TEC "is the only global [province] in the Anglican Communion." And in fact, TEC includes not only the U.S. but jurisdictions in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.
One of the messages here, it seems, is that if Anglican primates want to kick TEC out of the Communion, they will be kicking out little Honduras or Ecuador along with it. (Both are part of TEC's Province IX, which also includes Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Litoral and the Dominican Republic; TEC also has extra-provincial or -territorial jurisdictions in Europe, Haiti, Micronesia, the Virgin Islands, Taiwan, and the U.S. Armed Forces.)
But some think it likely that the other "subtle message" to the rest of the Communion in the Episcopal Church's sudden global emphasis is that "we are just the same as you."
The orthodox former Bishop of Eau Claire (WI), William Wantland, who is also a lawyer, said he thinks that TEC "wants to stay in the Anglican Communion if it can on its own terms, or be a communion on its own terms."
"That's a fair speculation," agreed Fr. Minns.
Moreover, Wantland thinks that if TEC, which is already international, sets out on its own, it would seek to convince other liberal provinces to join the alternate Anglican fold. These might include Canada, Brazil (an Episcopal Church plant), Mexico, Central America, the Philippines, and possibly Southern Africa, the only liberal-led African Anglican province. (Primates from several of the aforementioned provinces, plus some others - Central America, Korea, Melanesia, Japan, and Cyprus and the Gulf - were guests at General Convention.)
No province has ever made the claim similar to TEC's, that it includes 16 countries across the world, from Europe to Taiwan, said Dr. Michael Nau-Chiu Poon of Singapore, director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia. Is TEC "intending to start an ideological Cold War in this post-General Convention 2006 era?" he asked. "Is [it] creating a split within the Communion?"
Is TEC "planning a communionwide coup d'etat" or "a parallel Anglican Communion of the far revisionist left?" asked the AAC's Canon Anderson. Whatever the case may be, he observed that, between now and February's formal Primates' Meeting, TEC has time to assemble primates friendly to it to move toward a new global coalition.
"I suspect we will find out in the next nine months of gestation exactly what is coming to pass. Hold on," Anderson said.
Reports in this section include information from the Anglican Communion Network, American Anglican Council, Anglican Mainstream, the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and South Carolina, Episcopal News Service, Convention Daily, The Living Church, Reuters, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Columbus Dispatch, VirtueOnline, The Associated Press, Church Times, The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, Post & Courier (Charleston, SC), The Church of England Newspaper, World, Washington Window, The Tablet "Also At The Convention": See reports of other actions of note (other than those mentioned in one of our main reports) in bonus reports linked with the Summer issue at http://www.challengeonline.org.
"The most important choice we face now is whether we will spend the next three years focusing on Mother Church or - in the words of our Presiding Bishop-elect, on Mother Jesus. We cannot live up to our call to be the body of Christ in the world if we're spending all our time, energy, and resources arguing about how to be the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion." - Integrity President, the Rev. Susan Russell, in reaction to Archbishop Williams' June 27 paper
"When asked halfway through the convention how I thought it was going, I replied that it was like watching someone jump off a 100-story building, and the hollering out the 50th floor window as he went by, "How's it going so far?!" - Anglican Church in America Archbishop Louis Falk
---Auburn Faber Traycik is editor of The Christian Challenge. She is based in Washington DC. Her website can be found at: http://www.challengeonline.org/
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