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A MINOR MIRACLE

In a world of pride and hubris, the Archbishop of Canterbury would seem to stand little chance. Yet twice in the last few months, first in Canada and now in the United States his presence has contributed significantly to calm the most ardent prophets and reformers, whose addiction to Cause threatens to destroy the very vehicle they occupy.

While the answer the Episcopal Church has offered the Primates is bound not to satisfy everyone on the “right”, and it will embarrass some, it gives the necessary space for the Anglican Communion to go forward with a Lambeth Conference, the proper forum for the world episcopate to address the vexing human sexuality and authority issues as a gathered body, rather than separate groups lobbing answers at each other from afar.

The bishops go to Lambeth first of all as individuals, individually invited, and only secondly as provincial affiliates. This is a fact both they and the rest of us should stress and take in deadly earnest. They are given the opportunity to seek to shed for a space of time, jurisdictional and ethnic pride and to live into the baptismal promise the American Church constantly trumpets. Each bishop will go to Kent primarily as a baptized Christian, called to exercise episcopacy in a context. That context is both universal and local. As the late Eric Mascall suggested, they are Apostolically incorporated into the College of the Apostles, a rather more important concept than mere “succession.” They are locally appointed to an area in which they serve as proclaimers of the faith and unity of the church.

Historically provinces were a later development. In that sense they are of less importance than the international and local aspects of episcopacy. Perhaps that is an emphasis to be recovered at a moment when national locality grabs the attention and affords opportunity for sin.

The Episcopal Church’s response to the Primates embarrasses those who were banking on an excuse for schism both here in the United States and on a larger stage. The outposts of Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and elsewhere shakily established in the United States now look unfortunate at worst and provisional and tentative at best.

As their representatives and those from the “Continuing Churches” meet now in “Common Cause” in Pittsburgh, they have been given space to get their own house in order, to take time to evaluate cooly and under the Gospel, their divisions and ambitions. What do they contribute in a positive and Gospel fashion to the peace and unity of the Church of God? The answer may not be entirely a negative one. It is a fact that thousands of Episcopalians have given up and gone into a wilderness. The wilderness is a place to find and hear God.

It would be foolishly romantic to suggest that the Episcopal Church has reformed herself or her manners. She remains very far gone from original righteousness, an unlikely home for all but the most entrenched and stubborn orthodox believer. She has hedged her bets by appealing to future consensus or not so future meetings of the oracular General Convention as times and places to resume her restless quest for special revelations from God. This being the case, it is doubtful whether she is a likely destination for those already in exile. The Episcopal Church will still be eyed with suspicion by many Global South primates, induced by American allies into premature impatience and acts violating jurisdictional integrity. They too now have a chance to pause, to step back from their own hubris and to seek to contribute positively to a solution rather than compounding the problem.

And is it too much to ask the leaders of domestic dioceses planning to leave TEC to wait and see and at least examine what the Presiding Bishop may now suggest as a pastoral solution? How the South Carolina and Chicago elections work out may determine the immediate future of these people.

Enormous gratitude is due to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his quiet, steady, patient faith and witness. No doubt the stern words of the Australian Archbishop Aspinall played a significant role in making the American bishops blink. Nor should the contribution and skills of the Presiding Bishop go unnoticed and un-praised. God has purpose in all this and that purpose has created space and time. God help us all take full advantage of such an unexpected gift.

One Response

  1. I am sorry to see the “collaborationist” nonsense being thrown at your head by Matt Kennedy (who I thought had better manners) and the usual parrot cage-full of attendant squawkers over at SF. I find your piece well written, sensible and charitable. Thank you.

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