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The Primates of the Anglican Communion have met and today issued an important communique. You may find their report at Covenant-communion.net. They addressed a long list of items among which is a schism in the church in Zimbabwe led by the Bishop of the see which coves that nation’s capital, a notorious follower of Robert Mugabe. They also responded to the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church in the Sudan whose Province faces frightful problems in large measure caused by the government of that country.

The Primates noted the special role they play as representatives and Chief Pastors of their Provinces and National Churches. The title “Chief Pastor” is one which is used of our own Presiding Bishop. However after voting for the communique our own Primate issued a statement suggesting that only General Convention may speak for TEC. Now it is true that the office of Presiding Bishop was modeled on that of the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church who is not a “Primate” in the sense that title is usually used in the Communion. In earlier days the senior diocesan bishop in consecration was our Presiding Bishop and exercised no “primatial” functions except that he took order for the consecration of bishops, was normally chief consecrator and had vague rights to conduct visitations to the dioceses of PECUSA.

Over the years the job of PB was divorced from that of a diocesan bishop and PBs were elected and assumed some executive responsibilities. He or she is now elected to the office for a time certain. The office was elevated by adding the title of “Primate” and “Chief Shepherd or Pastor”. Our PB proudly carries a Primatial Cross and is styled “The Most Reverend”. Our Primate is recognized in the Communion and given the honor of being an equal member of the Communion’s Primatial Committee. In recent months we have seen our Primate exercising “metropolitical” authority in areas where our church has split.

A cynic might say that our PB acts as a Primate when it is convenient and attributes primatial status to General Convention when it is convenient. As I have asked before, are we an episcopal church or a “General Convention” Church, something novel in Catholic and therefore Anglican polity? The practical effect of TEC’s claim to a novel polity has been the cause of enormous confusion when our present and immediately past Primates have voted with the rest of the Primates and then come home and stated that their vote means not what it says because only General Convention may speak for TEC. Do we really believe that our bishops are successors of the Apostles or are we suggesting that Synods are their successors.

Whether our General Convention is competent to sever links with the Communion or walk apart from it is perhaps a matter for Canon Lawyers to determine. The Archbishop of Canterbury rightly suggests that autonomy stems from Communion and not the other way round. An ecclesial body made up only of bishops in communion with their own “brand” within a national group, unless isolated by issues beyond their immediate control lacks the fullness of Catholic Order.

Thus while one is delighted to see that our Primate has joined with the other Primates in commiting to the moratoria on the consecration of priests in same-sex relationships and on “same-sex” blessings and of initiatives to mediate the schism which is both external to and internal to TEC, one fears that such a participation and agreement may be disavowed because our Primate, at home, isn’t really a Primate. If indeed she is not surely she should abstain from joining with the other Primates when they issue communiques which affect TEC. At least such an abstention would be open and above board.

Those who are seeking to form the Anglican Church in North America should also heed the Primates. They were indirectly represented by the Primates who embrace them. They sought recognition as a parallel Province. They now have their answer. They have a process charted for them. Let them respond to mediation in full faith and commitment. They have not yet created a church. Let them delay further moves which would make mediation impossible. The Primates have made clear that it is not for local groups to recognize themselves as Provinces. If TEC is to be asked to submit to mediation – and it should – it should also accept a moratorium on legal actions aimed at dissident congregations and diocesan units and lift its depositions. It is clearly possible to lift depositions without inviting those bishops to meetings of the House of Bishops and General Convention.

In the present climate it may be possible for those who have left TEC to eschew active proselyting of TEC members without much effect. No doubt those leaving will continue to leave and find homes in the parishes of extra mural groups and such a moratorium may focus “continuing churches” on mission and evangelism to the unchurched.

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