Someone wrote to me the other day asking me to speculate on what will happen at the Primates’ Meeting. Well, I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I can only take comfort in believing that whatever happens eventually God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the meantime things look bad. Except in a script for a Monty Python movie. Primates self-segregated, armed guards, cabals and groups, threats of schism, expulsion, journalists hungry for news; it’s all farcical and bizarre.

I was struck by these words in the second lesson at Mattins today: “..if I am delayed, you may know how one is to behave in the Household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

I may well be accused of temerity in suggesting that our Primates take this injunction to heart. Despite Ruth Gledhill’s suggestion that schism may be a good thing, it is nevertheless true that schism weakens the church in its witness, in its worship and in its message to the world.

I entered the Episcopal Church in 1999, abandoning my miter, in part because I believed that being part of a world-wide, historical Communion made it possible for me to rejoice in a fellowship and witness more effectively to the faith once delivered to the saints. I had no illusions about the Episcopal Church -or thought I had none -but I was convinced that to obey our Lord’s command that we love one another requires unity. No, I am not being sentimental. Loving is not primarily an act of emotion, but rather a deliberate and self-sacrificing act of love. In other words we are commanded to intentionally act love, even if we don’t feel love and can find a million splendid reasons for walking away.

Schism denies who we are in worship. Eucharistic worship supposes unity, unity through baptism, unity in our intention to believe that which the Church believes and unity in Christ and with the whole Church in heaven and on earth. Disunity crucifies Christ. Schism is an act of agnosticism, suggesting that God is powerless and we have the answers. For the Church is not the sum total of living Christians, or of Anglicans, or of Episcopalians. The Church IS. It is for this reason that claims to autonomy or the claims of coalitions of Primates are heretical. No meeting of Primates, or General Synods or Conventions may claim final authority let alone the right to dismember the Church either by active or passive schism.

The Church speaks in witness to the unity God the Holy Spirit is bringing to the world. We are no longer the West, or the Global South, or African, or English, male or female, gay or straight, we are one and we demonstrate that unity in love and mutual submission. We are all sinners saved by grace, under the mercy, not as mere individuals, but as “members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ.” When we seek, on our own behalf or for others a special recognition based on tribe or caste, race or behavior, we deny the work of the Holy Spirit, or that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. That we are all, despite our sins, through baptism heirs of the Kingdom doesn’t imply that we don’t sin or that we are virtuous. No group may claim, by self-proclaimed membership in a group, automatic absolution. The Church has the right and duty to speak to the world against discrimination of all kinds. The Church may not absolve a group facing discrimination of their besetting sins. Nor, according to our own rubrics may we shun anyone unless they cause scandal – notice I said “they”, not the parish gossips or, -and note this, unless they cause division.

When we divide or cause division, because we believe we must defend the Church against something or other, we presume too much. God can look after the Church. Our task is to be obedient in conscience, to the faith of the Church and to our ministries, positively living out the faith in the bonds of unity. It was for this reason that Anglicanism developed it horror of schism: that schism is heresy and heresy schism.

If our Primates have come together in order to demonstrate their mutual willful love for the Church, the Communion and each other, then we can be sure God will do His good work among us. If they remain in their camps, intent on getting their own way or walk, then sulphur is in the air and more will reject Christianity as a temple for humbugs. All the chatter about second provinces, expulsions, claims of particular inspiration by the Holy Spirit, provincial autonomy have no basis in Scripture, the Tradition or sanctified Reason. They are based on political models and driven by the secular model of some Western cultures. Who, in their right mind prays for disunity?

So I pray, almost I despair in prayer,for the peace and unity of the Communion. And if TEC is expelled? I shall carry on as best I can in loyalty to the oaths I took when I was received into the Episcopal Church, hoping that in God’s good time unity in love may be restored.

One Response

  1. Tony, I’ve been a priest of (TEC, PECUSA, ECUSA) for over 41 years.
    The present turmoil causes me to experience some anticipatory grieving. If my Bishop is somehow no
    longer in communion with Canterbury,
    then I will have to find a bishop to receive me.
    I think I’m too old and tired to form a new Western Rite congregation in the Antiochian obedience, I can’t do the intellectual gymnastics to accept
    the peculiar Roman doctrines,
    so maybe all that will be left is for me to become a ‘churchless’ christian–collect my pension check, say my daily office (probably from the 1979 BCP, take care of my wife, and wait for the Lord.
    Whether we are in or out of the ACC, Lambeth conference, Primates’ meeting seems to be all bureaucratic bovine excrement, compared with the sacramental reality of being ‘in communion’.

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