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I’ve written about Comprehension in the last two posts. The problem the American Church faces today is how such a principle may apply given the theological and sociological divide within its midst. Nor is TEC (The Episcopal Church) alone in having to face such a predicament. As the Church of England staggers towards the appointment of women bishops it faces an equally severe crisis. Thus far the C of E, in permitting the ordination of women priests has tacitly acknowledged that in so doing it has abandoned the older principle of not legislating radical changes that alienate a significant portion of its constituency. It has therefore opted for a new variation on the older theme by creating a safe space for those who cannot in conscience accept that women may be ordained to the priesthood.

It has done so by appointing flying bishops, and creating thereby a new form of suffragan see annexed to the two Archbishops within their respective Provinces of Canterbury and York. The prospect of there being female diocesan bishops now faces a more difficult problem, one that so far seems intractable.

If Anglicanism, at least in the “West” is set to embark on radical change, the question posed is whether it is possible to allow for such change without losing part of its historic base. Perhaps a second question is whether those who are now enabled by Provincial synodical government really believe in Anglicanism’s broad based “coalition” or whether it espouses a new vocation to be a “prophetic” church, prepared to jettison its less adventurous constituency in the name of justice and a stream-lined model able to recruit that part of the population in tune with such a vocation.

In the United States the matter of creating a safe space has been made the more difficult by the polarization of its constituency -reflecting a similar polarization in society – and may one say a certain triumphalism on the part of those who hold sway in General Convention. Attempts to create flying bishops on the English model have met resistance from bishops who wrap themselves in the mantle of inviolable diocesan territorial jurisdiction. It is difficult to see how such a principle may logically be advanced given the collapse of its parochial territorial integrity. Indeed overseas, and particularly in Europe, TEC admits to the possibility of a form of diocese based on a personal episcopate afforded not on the basis of territory, but on the choice not only of expat. Americans but anyone who lives near an Episcopal community. Ironically the Presiding Bishop only claims “normal” jurisdiction in such a setting. If two or more “flavors” of Anglicanism may exist side by side in Europe it is difficult to see how that may not be considered within the United States based on the pastoral necessity of comprehending those who have a heritage of doctrine and practice dating back to Jamestown in 1607.

The only theological objection to such an accommodation would be that TEC enjoys the same form of territorial right enjoyed by the Church of England. The claim of the C of E is based on the theory that it is the historic “Catholic” Church of the nation dating back to Augustine of Canterbury. Yet TEC makes no such claim. Its ecumenical policy admits to the reality of it sharing territory with the ELCA. Indeed TEC has largely abandoned the idea of organic unity with other Christian bodies based on the notion that it is possible for episcopal churches embracing different traditions inhabiting the same territory. There was a time when TEC robustly claimed its identity as being the Catholic Church in America, reformed. Now in practice it embraces denominationalism.

If TEC now opts for a more homogeneous identity, it faces the pastoral problem of how it cares for those it alienates. Two possibilities are obvious. It can either create a safe space for traditionalists to remain in its midst, a space which creates security and a right to survive and grow, or it  may envision the recognition of a discreet entity outside of itself and yet sharing the maximum measure of intercommunion possible.

I hasten to say that the latter model is not an obvious choice if TEC is to live into its obvious comprehensive history. It should not appear by a process of unilateral dissolution; the establishment of such a body without mutual agreement.

Either model may only be successfully accomplished if those in power adopt a genuinely sympathetic and pastoral approach to those whose consciences may not embrace radical and legislated change. If an internal structure is to be considered it must permit those embraced to honestly keep the oaths taken at ordination or reception. If the second model is considered it must permit and require a maximum expression of relationship in all areas where this is possible.

After forty years of alienation it would take an act of enormous grace for all parties to negotiate in good faith and trust. Yet both faith and trust are gifts of God. If the next meeting of General Convention is intent on adopting measures that may well alienate many of its faithful clergy and laity; if the breaches which have notably occurred during the past few years are to be healed, the sort of passion associated with the changes in process, “justice” concerns, should be balanced by an equally passionate concern for the alienated; a “mercy” concern.

2 Responses

  1. Dear Tony,
    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your last three essays. They are brief and to the point. Since retirement just a few weeks ago it has been my privilege to take a three week tour of old friends, folks who I sent to seminary and a church previously rectored. I have spent time with those who are staying and those who have left. My conclusion is that the alienation is humanly unbridgeable – as you effectively comment. Not only is there huge alienation but there is huge satisfaction mostly on the part of those who have left as they feel free. The freedom is partly a spiritual one akin to freedom from oppression. They also feel free for mission without a kind of sea anchor holding them back. I grant the lawsuits are a huge burden but certainly those clergy and congregations that have simply walked away feel this least. Some clergy chafe at being called Mr. by the ECUSA bureaucracy and I believe that this is deliberately demeaning action on the part of the ECUSA folk.

    I spent time in two of the dioceses that have departed and this is clearly uncharted territory as nothing in constitution nor canon addresses departing dioceses. Here it really seems to be battle royal from the ECUSA side as their actions are felt to be graceless, demeaning and with a determination to humiliate before destroying the “enemy.” This is where more than anything else trust has gone to the wind. There was not even the offer of discussion when clearly there was time for such between the readings of the resolutions etc.

    Your two solutions are in a sense admirable but to me unlikely. Perhaps under the previous PB some grace might have been interjected. I doubt it now and I would put the responsibility on ECUSA to offer the first opportunity for a meaningful truce in stopping the lawsuits etc. Without that I am not sure that much will happen for the better even with Canterbury mediated reconciliation talks.

    The problem with these proposed mediation sessions is that ECUSA is battling on two fronts. They are the home front and the overseas one. The latter is one that ECUSA cannot win really unless they accept overlapping jurisdictions and or permanent “foreign” presence on their turf. The very arrogance of ECUSA makes neither possible.

    I remember sitting with a dear friend who was on the Windsor Commission and they remarked on the arrogance of the previous PB who was clearly “not to be trusted.” This new PB lacks even the grace of the last one and is theologically illiterate when faced with the keen minds of some of the other primates. Her fall back after Alexandria was to the autonomy of ECUSA and the authority of General Convention. We already know what that is likely to bring this summer.

    By the way I cannot say TEC as I was a worshiper during college in teh Episcopal Church of Scotland.

    Retirement is bliss – Peru will welcome me in 10 days so I am outside much of this, while yet caring much for the Church that is both rent asunder and intent (seemingly) of furthering the tear in the Anglican Communion.

    Blessings dear friend. I shall not see you in April in Houston as I shall still be in Lima. – Ian +

  2. I forgot to add my blog – sorry – hope it is of interest.

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