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The Feast of Pentecost – we used to call it Whitsunday – starts us off with a bang! However by the time we reach the end of the Sundays after Pentecost we’ll be sick and tired of the whole season. I know, it’s not technically a season. It just sounds like one. Pentecost ends the great days of Easter, completes Easter if you will.

I regret we have dropped the old Sundays after Trinity. But that is another story. Part of the problem of our exhaustion stems from our personalizing the tasks expected of us. In the jargon of the present we assume we are on a spiritual “journey”, perhaps with others, but nonetheless alone. We think in terms of faith helping us to discover ourselves – as if we had lost ourselves somewhere! We are to find our “inner reality” perhaps helped by getting into “spirituality”. Perhaps we think that if we manage all this we’ll be allowed into heaven.

There’s nothing wrong in any of these quests in themselves. Certainly we “find ourselves” as we realize who made us, why we were made, and what we are to become. Certainly spirituality is important as we surround ourselves in the unceasing prayers of the church which joins heaven and earth in praise and thanksgiving. It is when they become objects in themselves, divorced from the life witness and purpose of the church that they become futile attempts to gain life.

Isn’t it odd that the New Testament says very little about this sort of thing? The day of Pentecost, in the Early Church, was the day in which everyone celebrated the coming of the Kingdom. In Jesus, what we call heaven and what we call earth; what we call God, and what we call humanity, uniquely came together. Nothing has been the same since. God ‘s purpose is to restore heaven and earth, to make all things new. We together are called to be examples and spokes-persons for that which is to come. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given to each one of us in order that we may find ourselves, or fulfil ourselves or even get us to heaven. The power is given to us in order that we may be witnesses, life givers, to the fact that God’s purposes are unfolding. We are called, as were the Apostles, to go into all the world. In that world, although not of that world, we are to tell the story and make disciples, baptising them and incorporating them into the new kingdom. Nor is this merely a spiritual mission. In transforming people, we embrace our duty to guard all things created and to work for justice and peace, not because we can, by ourselves usher in the kingdom, but because the kingdom is and we are to be examples of what it will be like eventually.

If we as a church could only get back to being what we were created to be, many of the things which seem so vital, so important, that divide us into warring camps, would assume their proper relevance, defined not in terms of rights and entitlements, but in terms of duty and service, of life giving witness to the kingdom which is and which is to come.

As for going to heaven, that’s God’s business. Living and dying is something which happens to us all. But it isn’t a once-only happening. Rather dying and living is the daily experience of the church and of us all. In his book, THE JOY OF THE SAINTS, Richard Llewelyn writes:

“I recall when I was newly ordained being pulled up sharply when I misquoted the verse which says that we must lose our lives in order to find them. In fact Jesus said no such thing. We are not bidden to die in order that we may live -this is to be no nicely calculated venture embarked upon in order to bring in rich returns – but rather in the Pauline phrase, it is a matter of ‘dying and behold we live’. What is asked of us looks like loss, has every appearence of loss, and in the nakedness of faith the plunge is taken. Jesus did not die on the Cross in order that he might rise again. He died, was truly dead, and behold God raised him. Here is an illustration which has application to every aspect of the Christian life. With St. Paul the saints die daily, and with every death there is a rising to a fuller measure of the resurrection life. So by many deaths they are prepared – as we shall be too -for the final plunge into the ocean of God’s love.

Before that moment we often experience little deaths, many of which are beyond our control. This is also true of the church at large. Things which seem vital seem to die on us just as they do at home, in the family, at work, in the parish. Then there are those things we offer up, because they harm us, or annoy us, or deflect us. The wider church is asked to risk offering up that which many have fought for, for the good of the many. In our local parishes we are urged to give up our comfort-level, our introversion, our snobbish “Episcopalianism”. Yet in all these deaths, whether done to us, or offered by us, we discover that there is new life. Things offered are often returned transformed and renewed.

Then there will be that final plunge taking us out of time and space into the new heaven and the new earth which has always been God’s purpose and plan, as the Fall is reversed and all things are made new.


The middle way has been a metaphor for Anglicanism at least since the days of George Herbert in the 17th Century. In his book Love Took My Hand[1], Philip Sheldrake tells us of the great poet’s love for the Church:

“In a sense the particular visible expression of the Body of Christ to which Herbert gave his loyalty, the national Church, was also a ‘sacred’ place. It was local and particular yet also part of the universal Church Catholic. These sentiments are clearly expressed in Herbert’s poem ‘The British Church’. ‘She on the hills’ (Rome) ‘wantonly allureth all’ with her ‘painted shrines’. ‘She in the valley’ (Geneva), on the contrary was ‘…so shy of dressing that her hair doth lie about her ears’.

The Church of England is for Herbert his ‘dearest Mother’. Her way is the middle way: ‘The mean thy praise and glory is’.” Note that ‘mean’ then meant middle. Obviously the middle way in the 17th Century meant to most Anglicans not a compromise but an assertion, a ‘protest’ that the Church was at once reformed and yet not new, and catholic in descent and lineage; truly local and international. True it was only international in that it was perched somewhat insecurely in the New World. Yet the saintly bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, a friend of Herbert’s mother, insisted in his prayers and sermons that Rome was truly part of the Church, as were the Orthodox, and those Continental churches with the episcopate and even those who had lost the episcopal succession through no fault of their own.

The concept of Anglicanism as the middle way, the Via Media is not the same as a later claim that Anglicanism is a bridge church between “Catholicism” and “Protestantism”. As someone has said, who wants to live on a bridge? What is the purpose of such a bridge?

It is important to note that our heritage is to be a middle way, a ‘moderation’, pointed to both differences and commonality between ourselves as Rome on the one hand and Geneva on the other. Note also that Herbert places us in that context and not as a middle way between Constantinople and Wittenburg.

Our differences with Rome were obvious. We denied Rome’s assertion that doctrine develops through the actions of popes or councils. Thus we agreed with Geneva that all attempts to teach the Gospel within a culture and generation must always be tested at the bar of Scripture: to which Anglicans would add the tradition and sanctified reason. We denied Geneva’s dismantlement of the church, starting as it were anew and developing a tradition based on the teachings of a single individual and his interpreters. Here was the Anglican protest against iconoclasts and those who believed they had the authority to remake the church in their own image, based on the decisions of a local democratic synod.

In both senses Anglicanism, in its moderation, developed as a very ‘conservative’ church. In denying Rome’s claim to universal jurisdiction and to add to core doctrine teachings unknown in the Early Church Anglicanism took a very cautious approach to what would later be termed by Newman, doctrinal development.

In denying the right of a local church, such as Geneva, to overthrow the order of the church “known from the Apostles’ time” and to place theories of predestination and election and the atonement, never before officially defined, in the realm of core doctrine, Anglicanism once again identified itself as a local church, and eschewed any claim to speak as if it were alone and in itself the universal church.

To use a modern term, ‘subsidiarity’ was located at the parish, diocesan and national levels, and the top level was left vacant. We did not pretend to be the Universal Church or claim its powers. In that area also we exercised moderation.

It may well seem that such a position stifles ‘prophetic’ voices. In fact this has not been the case. Hugh Latimer championed the poor and even went to prison as he defied those in authority whose policies robbed the poor of income and homes. Thomas Treherne was perhaps the first ecologist among us. The Evangelicals campaigned against slavery, child labor and much else. Anglo-Catholics went into the slums, and some became the first Christian Socialists. Our own American manifestation of the Church championed Civil Rights in the 60’s and continues so to do.

We have a goodly heritage of women and men who have put the Gospel into practice. Our very claim to be a local manifestation of the Church and not a denomination spurs us to reject the Genevan ideal of a gathered church of devotees. In fact in a deep sense we do not identify ourselves as Episcopalians or Anglicans, except in descriptive terms, but rather as Church people. Such a claim does not pose a challenge to other churches, or limit our devotion to ecumenism and to restoring the oneness and unity of the Church. Rather we offer to the whole Church our insights of moderation and comprehension, our ideal of being merely the Church, locally expressed in diocese and parish. Our mission is to include all who walk through the waters of baptism and claim the faith of the universal church.

In an age in which our local American expression of the Church seems to sit lightly on its moderation, places stress on a chauvinistic denominationalism, and lightly claims doctrinal development based solely on the authority of a local synod, it is high time that our defining claim to be the Via Media is recaptured, proclaimed and taught. Such a discovery of who we are would inspire and enliven local church growth and spiritual health. We would cease to offer something we call Episcopalianism in our localities and once again offer ourselves as merely the Church, locally expressed, with a mission to all people, in all places and at all times.

[1] Philip Sheldrake, Love Took My Hand, Cowley, 2000


Recently voices have been raised challenging the House of Bishop’s role and that of individual bishops chatting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. And so some history:

When it became evident that Anglicanism in America’s survival required its independence, the Founders decided to name the emerging church, The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Today the title seems rather schizophrenic. How could a church be both Protestant and Episcopal?

Embarrassed apologists of a High Church bent opined that the word protestant didn’t mean what it has evolved to mean but rather suggested an affirmation of certain points distinguishing ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church. That would have been news to the Founders, even the most High Church of the Founders, all of whom subscribed to the Articles of Religion. It’s good to remember that from 1801 until fairly recently the Constitution of the Episcopal Church required that the Articles “be in use” in all dioceses and missionary dioceses of the church. Certainly from 1801 and for a long time thereafter the oath taken by clergy to obey the “doctrine” of the church was thought to be a subscription to the Articles and they were taught diligently in the seminaries.

I am not advocating their return! I make the point merely to suggest that our Founders thought of themselves as Protestants in much the same way as we use the term today. However, they were Protestants with the difference. The Founders used the word “Episcopal” with reference to the Scottish Episcopal Church, which in the 18th Century formed with the Church of Ireland and the Church of England the “Anglican Communion.” Of course neither the word “Anglican” nor the word “Communion” had then entered our vocabulary. The Scottish Episcopal Church in the late 18th Century was emerging from years of persecution. It was not recognized by the Church of England which had and continued to plant rival congregations in the Scottish dioceses. Scottish Anglicans were truly “Episcopalian”. They left the Established Church of Scotland when that church abolished the episcopacy in 1689. They existed almost solely because they believed in episcopacy and the High Church Tradition. In worship they used a version of the very Prayer Book Charles I attempted to impose on the Scottish Church, rebellion against which contributed to the English Civil War.

It was this tiny, illegal church which consented to ordain and consecrate our first bishop, Samuel Seabury of Connecticut. Seabury’s father, formerly a Congregationalist minister, was one of the Yale ministers who, after studying the church fathers, embraced episcopacy and a High view of the church and became Anglican priests. Thus Seabury’s views were in tune with those of his Scottish friends. Seabury entered a concordat with the Scottish Episcopal Church, promising among other things to incorporate in an American Liturgy the Prayer of Consecration in use in Scotland. That Eucharistic Prayer originated in the first English Prayer Book and was considered by some to be “Catholic” in intent and flavor.

For a good while the existence of the Episcopal Church hung on whether there could be comprehension between those who thought that episcopacy might be optional and the emerging church democratic and Protestant and those who stressed a very high doctrine of the church, the sacraments and the ministry and particularly episcopacy. It is interesting to note that only those who surrounded Samuel Seabury, the Scottish Episcopalians and a minority of English High Church people and Non-Jurors held such an exalted view of these matters. The Anglo-Catholics were yet to come.

In the end a compromise was forged. Seabury was able to keep his bargain with Scotland. Those interfering archbishops of Canterbury and York demanded the restoration of the Nicene Creed and other segments include in the “new” American Prayer Book and the Broad Church majority was given its General Convention of two houses, made up of bishops, other clergy and the laity. Both houses of Convention were given veto power over the other and left to fight things out presumably in holy charity. The American Church professed that it would not depart from the Church of England’s order and belief “or further than local circumstances require.”[1]

Over the years Episcopalians became more and more uncomfortable with the word “Protestant” as a descriptive adjective. Finally the term was erased and as the American church is an international body, the words “in the United States of America” also disappeared. Unwittingly the Episcopal Church lost that part of its title which referred to its more democratic leanings. There’s an irony!. One of the present trends in our church is to consider the ordained ministry as a function inherent in baptism and thus in a sense shared by all, although individually ‘practiced’ by those set aside by ordination and consecration. The implications of this challenge the nature of the episcopate which one finds described in the Ordinal and its preface and in the catechism. These trends in “mutual ministry”, perhaps evidence of a resurgent Protestantism, suggest that bishops should not represent our church alone, but should always or nearly always consult with and function with other clergy and the laity. While this ideal is neither something new nor something locally “Episcopalian”; it also represents claims by those who believe in synodical majoritarianism and wish to clip the wings of bishops and primates.

Although reformers feel free to challenge older notions of priesthood and its ontological charism, but curiously not its indelibility, there is still some hesitance in challenging the apostolic role of bishops. This role is clearly identified in the liturgy for the ordination and consecration of bishops. A reluctance to challenge older theologies of the episcopacy by proponents of “mutual ministry” in fact elevates the unique status of bishops and drives a deeper wedge between the episcopate and other Orders. But that is a story for another day.

What is clear is that right from the beginning our church has stressed episcopacy and its function much more vividly, at least at first, than other Anglican bodies and that emphasis remains part of its official teaching to be found in the Ordinal and the Catechism of the Prayer Book. That bishops are democratically elected makes no difference. The office originates in popular democracy but it is not a democratic office. Certainly no one suggests that bishops be re-elected by those they “represent” before each meeting of General Convention or that they should cease to be part of that House when they resign or retire.

It would seem to me quite evident that a church which professes to be an “Episcopal” church, describes the role of the episcopate fully in its Ordinal requires ecumenical partners to adopt episcopacy as a necessary step to intercommunion should entrust its bishops with the tasks inherent in their office.I would urge that we all read carefully the Examination of a bishop-elect on page 517 in the Prayer Book, and particularly the words:”You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of theChurch.” and “With your fellow bishops you will share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world.” I would suggest that as the Ordinal is not merely a group of efficient services, but an expression of Anglican doctrine, it makes total sense for bishops to engage and be engaged in guarding our unity and in leading us in the Church “throughout the world.” The result of such work is rarely enshrined in legislative acts in a specific Province. The collegial acts of bishops, whether at home as a House, or in the widerCommunion, whether in ad hoc meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury or at Lambeth Conferences are unique
or distinct. In that sense they in some way differ from the actions of the House of Deputies or pan-Anglican meetingsinvolving all Orders. Such acts are not “superior” or of greater authenticity than those undertaken in the shared government in “synod” or by other clergy and the laity. But they are distinct insofar as bishops are bishops and have a distinct charism and function within the “dispersed authority” of theChurch.

At a time when the nature of ordination is under discussion, I think it important that we develop ways of recognizing inherent function and grace within the Orders of Ministry without burdening our debate with notions which owe more to secular political theory than to scripture, tradition and reason as Anglicans have received the same. For while many “democratic” aspects of our church originate in its 18th Century form of Protestantism, their present interpretation owes much to contemporary secular egalitarian theory, opportunistic attempts to shift power to the House of Laity in General Convention and a general distrust of a cult of authority, however venerable and holy.

Not all trends in society are inimical. On the other hand, the task of the church is to consider that which society proposes always from the standpoint of core belief and that whether a secular cause or trend is of the Right, of the Left or of the Center. In losing sight of this, we become the more susceptible to becoming a church defined by its reference to one or other of the prevailing cultures. We were once the conservative party at prayer. Now we divide between the liberal party in action and the conservative party in reaction. This is particularly the case in the growing trend to treat General Convention in almost exclusively secular political terms, as an exclusive and omni-competent legislative body. I champion the bishops!

[1] BCP page 11 in the penultimate paragraph.


Right from our emergence as a separate face in Christianity, Anglicans have sought to comprehend what seem to be mutually exclusive viewpoints and ecclesiastical parties. Now that is a fact. The reasons lying behind this extraordinary attempt to include as many of the baptized as possible and to invite into fellowship even those who sit lightly on our seemingly minimal requirements for reception are complex and were at first both political and practical.

They were political because the zeal of the Reformers was tempered by the policies of the British Crown. The thought that there might be a multitude of what we later termed denominations in one nation wasn’t even on the table, or even in the minds of most people. Even in Scotland, where Calvinism triumphed, there was to continue one Church in one nation, based in a continuity of parishes and parish churches. On the Continent, at least in the Germanic lands, the idea of a nation state hadn’t emerged. Even there at first, in the multitude of large and tiny principalities and duchies, those following one or other of the Reformers formed their own local church, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant.

The British and Scottish monarchs no more envisioned denominationalism than they did democracy. How could they? It was beyond their imagination. There had to be one Church if there was to be one King.

Practically the fact was that at local level the focus of religion centered on the parish church, including its graveyard. Friends and relatives, ancestors, for centuries were baptized, married and buried in that holy ground. Only the most zealous thought it possible to divide the sheep from the goats and establish rival religious communities inhabited by the “elect” and the pure in doctrine and morals, inhabiting alternative buildings..

Early Reformers like John Jewel, while thundering against the papacy, mass, prayers for the dead, a sacerdotal priesthood or “apostolic succession” in its “Catholic” sense, affirmed at length the continuity and “catholicity” of the Church of England harking back, as some do now, to a golden age discovered in the early days of Christianity, a tactic used by liberals and conservatives to this day.

Next year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Anglicanism in the United States. Our first priest, Robert Hunt, seems of have been a “church evangelical”, a distinction now used to separate those Calvinists loyal to the National Church and those who would later plant themselves in Massachusetts. His first act was to assemble the colonists and celebrate Holy Communion using the Prayer Book of 1559.

Forty years later Anglicanism was abolished in England and the Commonwealth tolerated the emergence of a multitude of sects or denominations. Only in Virginia and surrounding areas did the Church survive, tolerating, under what we would now find fairly harsh conditions, the emergence of newly formed groups.

For nearly two hundred years, American Anglicanism developed and encouraged a diversity of opinion. These ranged from what we might call a Broad Church aristocratic church in the South to an emerging High Church movement in the North where the church was not established. The variations were not a matter of liturgy, vesture, or ceremonial. After 1662 all used the new English liturgy almost devoid of ceremonial and ecclesiastical vesture. Many churches looked exactly like Presbyterian chapels inside with a central pulpit or one which towered above all else. Holy Tables were small and portable. The parson wore academic gown over his cassock if he had one, perhaps donning a surplice for the Eucharist celebrated maybe four times a year. Mattins and Ante-Communion with a long sermon was Sunday fare. Yet there was wide disagreement about bishops – best kept in England – on the nature of the Eucharist and other sacraments, on predestination and election or even about whether the Church was a denomination or the local manifestation of THE Church.

These divisions nearly derailed attempts to create a National Church after the Revolution. There were suggestions that episcopacy could be optional, established by presbyteral ordination, or whether the Nicene Creed should be in the liturgy. Although PECUSA settled many of these things internally, it was the Archbishop of Canterbury who interfered and mandated the restoration to a draft Prayer Book of what he believed to be essential elements. So much for meddling by Canterbury in our affairs!

And then came the Evangelicals who rescued from oblivion the church in the Southern and middle states and created the church in Ohio, Illinois, Arkansas and elsewhere. They were Bible people as seen through the lens of the writings of the English and Continental Reformed theologians, encouraged extra-liturgical interpolations to the Prayer Book and in prayer meetings, dreamed of a pan protestant united church across the nation and made common cause with their allies abroad.

A revived High Church party did the same in the North, with New York as their center. They lifted high episcopacy, liturgy strictly used, territorial episcopacy, the Church as the “true” church as opposed to the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, and opposed all cooperation with Protestants.

Then came the Anglo-Catholics who taught apostolic succession as the esse of the Church, the real presence and the Eucharistic sacrifice in a manner not unlike that taught by Rome and Orthodoxy, encouraged auricular confession, elaborate acts of worship using the gestures, vestments and ceremonial in use in Roman Catholic parishes and interpolations in the Prayer Book liturgy or even the use of Missals, translations of the then Roman Rite. They formed monasteries and convents and seminaries and evangelized areas of the country.

Then came Liberals, who espoused “modern scholarship” of the Bible, embraced Darwin, championed the poor, people of other races and cultures and longed to see the Kingdom of God established by the social and economic witness of the church.

In all this there was much cross-fertilization. The great middle ground of Anglicanism was the place where the ideas of movements and parties, in a practical and local manner were absorbed, amended or discarded. All this took time and patience.

Comprehension didn’t always work. The Methodists left us, or we left them after the Revolution. Evangelicals left us in the 1873 schism which created the Reformed Episcopal Church. By and large we stayed together. We wrote sometimes dreadful polemics and distributed pamphlets about Confession or Colored stoles. We often thought the worst of each other. Yet we remained substantially intact, tolerant of diversity, whether doctrinal, ceremonial or social.

Surely we can learn from this history about our nature and communion? Is it not ironic that in these days of progress we seem to have returned to the worst days of our existence, when church folk and puritans fought for the very soul of the church and very nearly killed it off? “Zeal for your house has destroyed me” or so the psalmist wrote. The division of our church into two houses would be a denial of all we have been and claimed to be. Separation from our brothers and sisters in the wider communion would be equally a denial of that event which happened four hundred years ago near Jamestown, surely as important a moment as our emerging as the third constituent in what we would later term the Anglican Communion after the Revolution.

Comprehension may be limiting, may make development slow and erratic, and may discourage prophets –although it did not do so in the past. The question is whether comprehension is possible in a day when the church is defined not by its beliefs and practices, but by majoritarian decisions by governing bodies and by the influence of lobbies, pressure groups, the media and email!


In an article on the pending resignation of +Robin Eames as Archbishop of Armagh, the writer of a Belfast newspaper column penned these words: “Always he was conscious of the need to carry the majority of his Anglican community with him, rather than risk a calamitous division, and posterity may judge that the heat has gone out of the controversy, thanks to his softly-softly approach.” The subject was reconciliation between the communities in Northern Ireland.

The Church of Ireland has its own north-south dimension. In the south the roots go back to the days of “protestant” ascendancy, when the franchised elite, represented by noble families, land-owners, estate managers, lawyers, doctors and police, even poets and authors ran the show for the most part for England, although not a few were champions of Ireland. After the emergence of the Irish Republic, many Irish Anglicans left the country, leaving the southern ecclesiastical Province of Dublin weakened and saddled with what seemed to me more dioceses, cathedrals and dignitaries than people. Lately a drift to the south, immigration spurred by an economic recovery, membership in the European Union and the weakening control of the Roman Catholic Church have combined to begin a growth in membership.

In the north, after partition, the Church of Ireland was naturally brought into the “troubles” and the conflict. Many if not most northern Anglicans were staunchly Unionist, keen on their status as a province of the United Kingdom. Many were members of the Orange Order, a quasi-masonic style society, some of whom supported the violent tactics of the para-military groups involved in armed conflict with the IRA. It must also be said that most Church of Ireland people were not so involved. Thus it is in this context that +Robin Eames has exercised his primacy, as leader of the whole Church of Ireland and as archbishop of the Ulster based Province of Armagh, the see of Saint Patrick. Archbishop Eames, like Archbishop Tutu in South Africa, lead his church towards reconciliation by policy and example while at the same time gently leading all church people of all opinions, by personal leadership, by pastoral care and by listening and dialogue with those opposed to his vision. He has been indeed “Primate of All Ireland”.

In another context our Archbishop of Canterbury attempts to do the same thing in his own Church of England and in the wider Anglican Communion. For this he is much criticized by those who believe that primacy involves the championing of one cause at the expense of alienating those who disagree.

The job description of the Primate of the Episcopal Church, in a limited sense primacy of an international body found not only in America, begins with a section which worries me. It demands of the Presiding Bishop an executive role, in part responsible for owning and forwarding decisions of two political bodies: General Convention and the Executive Committee and related agencies and boards. Obviously such terms of reference, placed in preeminent position in responsibility may well place an obstacle to a Presiding Bishop who, as Primate wishes to “carry his/her Anglican community with him, rather than risk a calamitous division.” If a Presiding Bishop disagrees with legislated policies, as the late +Jack Allin did, the dilemma becomes even worse. Bishop Allin did sterling work in reaching out to those alienated by the 1976/79 decisions of General Convention over the ordination of women and the new Prayer Book. I was then the primus of one of the continuing churches. He reached out to us, and for some years promoted what then seemed to be fruitful talks between what is now the Anglican Province of America and ECUSA. He even managed to get the House of Bishops to go along with him. Using a provision in the American Canons we worked on a plan to reach an interim situation in which the Presiding Bishop would become our PB while we retained jurisdictional sovereignty for a period of twenty-five years. It all came to nothing when he retired.

That the Episcopal Church, at home and abroad is deeply divided and conflicted is no secret. Yet if viewed from the aspect of “primacy” whoever becomes Presiding Bishop has a bully pulpit and all sorts of formal and informal avenues to pastor those who dissent conscientiously. Such a pastoral ministry might well defuse anxiety that the Episcopal Church is willing to lose those within our church, and those who have left, and do so gladly. Many object that our present Primate has been ill used and rebuffed by traditionalists. And so a story:

In 1977 those disturbed by Prayer Book revision and the ordination called a Congress in St. Louis. Those who attended were an angry lot, many with an agenda to split ECUSA and form a pure church. They had their lobbies and societies which sent out literature and recruited followers. Of course there was no web or internet in those days.

I was there. So was the Presiding Bishop. At the Eucharist he went forward and was denied communion. Now that was a rebuff of staggering proportions. I met +Jack Allin in a hallway after the service and offered him my personal apology and then wrote to him suggesting that even at this stage there should be a way in which Christians could disagree without total alienation. The PB then wrote to continuing church leaders, heads of the ancestors of the Network and anyone with whom he could find a contact. Alone among them all, the jurisdiction I headed agreed to talks. We were asked to pick three ECUSA bishops with which we might dialogue. And so we sat down with +Stanley Atkins, then Bishop of Eau Claire, and +Jim Montgomery of Chicago. Later +Stanley, of blessed memory, was succeeded by +William Wantland, and +Philip Smith of New Hampshire joined the team. We met at 815, we met in Chicago, we met at my cathedral in South Florida, and all this in the teeth of stiff opposition from both sides. The ECUSA primate was leading gently.

I yearn to see a Primate of All American Anglicans elected who will follow that good example. Perhaps to do this we need to tackle the job description of our Presiding Bishop, enshrined in the Constitution and Canons. Surely we could establish an office entrusted with forwarding the policies and canonical changes established by our political agencies? Such a change would not necessitate a primate divorce him/herself from that which ECUSA determines in its legislative assemblies. +Robin Eames made no secret of his fundamental disagreement with clergy and parishioners who espoused the policies of anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland. With patience, with contact, with pastoral care +Robin sought gently to bring people along and thus avoided calamitous division within the Church. Surely that is the vocation of an Archbishop of Canterbury and of our own new Primate?


A writer to an email list suggested that Episcopalians view the Anglican Tradition through the lens of American Liberal Protestantism. This is my reply.

I’m not sure Anglican Tradition a la the liberal view has much to do with liberal protestantism. I think it has a lot to do with good old fashioned American patriotism. As a Brit, over here for nearly 40 years on and off, I’m amazed at the strength of the “myth” which tells us from early childhood that America is unique, special, and much more free, democratic and advanced than anyone else. This form of auto-propaganda is meat and drink to everyone and forms a common but unconscious bond between conservatives and liberals.

The religious manifestations of this may be discovered in all the new revelation movements, among Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, right-wing Evangelicals and I fear in the theory that God speaks through “enlightened” movements and majorities in church synods attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit.(I’ve expanded this thought lightly in an essay on my blog about Episcopal Elections as you may read below.) The underlying issue is that we form a special and chosen and superior group, the eternal power of Gnosticism..

Now I want to make it clear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that God does not use people and movements within the church, or nations, peoples and movements in the “world.” The danger lies in the belief that if we do this or that, a captive God does our bidding. There, I think, is our “protest” against papalism, but not against catholicism even of the Roman variety per se. That is our “protest” against Puritanism and the rule of an “elect”, although not against puritans, evangelicals, Bible-people who have been with us since the Reformation and who rescued ECUSA from oblivion after the Revolution.

This is the danger of wrong-headed sacramentalism, or canonical regulation in which we believe that doing this or that ritual affirms authenticity, rather than submitting to God’s untidy grace in charity towards those who don’t use the right words or actions, as if God has a heavenly MC to tell God what can be done and what cannot be done.

The Anglican Tradition requires of us a certain hesitance and tolerance as we evaluate the decisions we attempt to make. Do notice that even when we strode away from Rome, we did not set up an equivelent “competence”. We organized ourselves, in the teeth of an emerging English Nationalism, to be merely competent at our level of subsidiarity. We left ultimate authority in a “holy void”, relying on basic formularies, Scripture, Tradition, sanctified and humble Reason, Prayer Book, Catechism, Ordinal and even Articles to point beyond our local or even collective “communion” to a “something” we termed the one, holy catholic and apostolic church as we affirmed its reality in the Catholic Creeds. Even at our most provincial we yearned for the unity which escaped us. Even when we separated from Canterbury we submitted to Canterbury over Creeds and other lacunae in our first proposed liturgy. The yearning may have been limited. It may have been the union of evangelical churches Cranmer aspired to. It may have been reunion with Rome Anglo-Catholics dreamed of. It may have been faith in the World Council of Churches William Temple and Geoffrey Fisher hoped for.

At its worst our intention has been to visit upon the world our own provincial arrogance that through some nationalistic and patriotic theocratic vision we tell the world and the churches that we have a new revelation to which they should submit. The Church of England succumbed to that in the colonial period. We may be doing that now.

It well may be that we have something to say to ourselves and the wider church about our gay and lesbian etc sisters and brothers, to whom we have rightly affirmed, based on their baptism, and not their sexual expressions, full recognition as beloved children of God and heirs of the kingdom, as called and chosen, equally responsible to be part of the holy priesthood, holy nation: under merciful grace in judgment and affirmation even unto ordination and consecration. Anglican Tradition doesn’t go in for group affirmation, but to incorporation into the Group- the Church of God and not merely a territorial jurisdiction – into which we are all baptized; living the best we can under the Mercy. It does not follow that sacramental rites and other liturgical forms may be widened to accommodate intimate relationships beyond those recognized and blessed in matrimony, as defined in the wedding rites and the Catechism.

ELECTION DAY: Some thoughts on making bishops

Of the making of bishops there is no end. So it seemed today when synods in California-two of them- Eastern Michigan and Tennessee met to choose new bishops. For the Diocese of Tennessee this was for the third time of asking and its electors failed again.

All the hype about the California election disappeared with the first ballot. No gay or lesbian nominee made the running. In Northern California and Easter Michigan local clergy were elected, known priests. Recently Albany went for a local rector of a typically sized ECUSA parish, and that means small “membership” to most other denominations. Today in Northern California and Easter Michigan local clergy were elected; known priests on the diocesan staff. Mind you the bishop of New Hampshire was a known priest on the diocesan staff when he was elected. Local doesn’t always mean non-controversial.

I have to confess myself something of an agnostic when it comes to popular theory behind the election of bishops. Anglicans have never really made up their minds on the subject. At the Reformation we kept the office and often the incumbent in the office as we swung backwards and forwards between varieties of reformation and counter-reformation trends. The monarch wanted them and that was good enough. Making bishops didn’t even make the short-list of sacraments, but their importance was enormous to the state. “No bishop: no king” slurred James I. He wanted no Reformed committees of Divines running his church.

Gradually two theories, always with the usual variations on their themes, emerged among us. Those more Catholic believed that bishops in Apostolic Succession represented an institution essential to a true Church. Where there was no bishop, there was no church. Those more Evangelical believed that the Apostles died out and were not succeeded. Yet to them episcopacy was a very convenient and excellent form of church government. This didn’t prevent autocracy among evangelical prelates or servanthood among Catholic chief pastors and vice versa. There came a time when episcopacy came to be commended to other churches as one of those elements to be found in a future united Christendom. This Anglican bishops did at an early Lambeth Conference when it adopted an ECUSA document we now call the Lambeth Quadrilateral; one of those decisions of the Conference we all now take as Gospel. It’s in the American Prayer Book along with the Chalcedon Decree and the Articles of Religion.

Of late voices in our country have even suggested that our democratic way of electing bishops in some mysterious way makes them more commendable than other Anglican bishops and thus than most bishops elected since the time of Ambrose of Milan. I have no idea what that means in practice.

Viewed “politically” or even practically, the method employed to select and finally appoint bishops doesnt seem to make a whole lot of difference. Looking at large, and within our own Anglican history worldwide, one can discover saintly bishops and wretched bishops, effective bishops and duds, naughty bishops, under-age bishops, hereditary bishops, “prophetic bishops”, pastoral bishops, agnostic bishops and comical bishops.

So wherein am I agnostic? The fact that the individual characters of bishops have been so varied, or that some very wicked people have donned the mitre, doesn’t particularly bother me: I can always find a saints to restore the balance. After all, baptism produces a very mixed bag of people and there’s never been much doubt that baptism is the primary sacrament. Nor do I doubt that if episcopacy is of the “esse” or even the “bene esse” of the church it is necessary and requisite. My problem is with the very modern claim that the Holy Spirit actually produces the right person through whatever process is used to select such a person. I freely believe that the Holy Spirit has something to do with preserving the office. Like Lancelot Andrewes I am prepared to accept that episcopacy is part of the nature and reality of the Church and our church, unless a Christian community has been deprived of episcopacy by what we might term historical accident.

I also believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in our assemblies, synods, conventions and councils. My faith wavers before claims which suggest that particular decisions made by any of these institutions assures us all that the Holy Spirit places an infallible seal of approval on such decisions in particular. If my mind changed, I’d become a Roman Catholic in short order. I don’t believe in collective séances.

I believe in the Holy Spirit and I also believe in the fallibility of human beings, however well-intentioned, however prayerful and indeed however holy. I believe that the Holy Spirit preserves, protects and proclaims the Church in its wholeness and in its mission, in its prosperity and in its misery, when it seems faithful and when it seems faithless. I believe that those categories go far deeper than contemporary issues and slogans, crises and agonies. For this reason I affirm the faith of the Church in the Creeds and I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life and thus through the Spirit I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and I believe in one baptism for the remission and of sins and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

But do I believe that the Holy Spirit has much to do with the failure of Tennessee electors to come up with a candidate they can elect? Nah!