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BETWIXT & BETWEEN

I have an urge to rename the Sunday after Ascension “Episcopalian Day”.  The similarities are striking. The disciples were huddled in the upper room “for fear” of the people outside. One may well imagine the debate that went on. Jesus had left a number of parting commandments. “Go into the world and tell”. “Go baptize”. “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Love one another”.  “You will receive dynamic power and you will be my life-givers to the furthest parts of the earth.”

Yet it is probable that Jerusalem was the furthest from home they had ever been.  The treasurer had been dipping in the funds, had turned on Jesus and then committed suicide. Peter had denied he knew the Lord, and only John and the women had hung around and dared to go to the Cross. A likely lot!

Well, like good Episcopalians there was one thing they knew how to do. They held an election. We don’t know how controversial Matthias was, but he hardly moved mountains. We hear nothing about him after his election. Sounds like a nice safe candidate for the episcopate.

If the disciples in the upper room were really like the rest of us, after a long debate about evangelism (sounded like something those fundamentalist Pharisees would get up to) they probably hung a discreetly suitable sign outside saying “Tasteful worship. Visitors may apply for membership.”

No doubt the new treasurer advised that spending the little money available for going into the world would be imprudent and demonstrate a lack of fiscal responsibility. Maybe someone suggested painting the room blue, and after heated debate the motion was carried.

There were probably conservatives who opposed change and thought evangelism was best aimed at those who shared the same world-view and ethnicity, and some wild liberals who thought going to the Gentiles would be good as long as no hint were given that their present religion was inadequate or even untrue. Better campaign against crucifixion and open a soup kitchen, the latter staffed by others.

What about Mary the Mother?  Well let’s not get too High Church. Do we have to make Eucharist everyday?  Share everything in common?  Sounds egalitarian.  What’s all this about the Holy  Spirit. We’ll be holding balloons and waving our arms in the air next.

And so they huddled. No doubt someone suggested that Jesus’ words should be taken metaphorically, were misunderstood, quoted out of context, or elaborated upon when written down hurriedly.

So they huddled and if nothing had happened none of us would be a Christian today!

POWER

I have become more and more uncomfortable with recent attempts to define and perhaps limit the implications present in the rather novel polity TEC enjoys. On the one hand we have witnessed an ad hoc extension of “primatial” authority on the part of the Presiding Bishop argued on the grounds of jurisdictional danger and perhaps canonical silence.

On the other hand the Communion Partner Bishops have put their name to a document which seeks to argue that the bonds of communion between the dioceses which make up TEC are voluntary. This seems to be an odd way to seek permission to retain ties with the Anglican Communion, should TEC shuffle of with its own worldwide alternative communion. It has been noted that at the current meeting of the ACC our PB introduced herself as Primate of a far flung worldwide church!

I have no doubt that our church has the perfect right to discipline recalcitrant bishops and to organize in areas where schism has occurred. However I see no canonical role for the national leadership in reorganization, except to afford help and recognition to continuing entities. The use of power and secular legal force to secure property for which the local diocese has no use or means of maintaining only brings scandal and plays into the hands of secularists. No one may count the number of people secured in ecclesial agnosticism by these methods.

Yet to argue historically that the founders of TEC went to such extraordinary lengths to forge unity between disparate constituencies with a mind that such unity was voluntary and revocable seems an attempt to rescue some kind of power and control. That it is true that “original” Episcopalians have been ruthlessly marginalized is not the point. How may one argue for the ecclesial unity of the member churches of the Anglican Communion when one argues for the ecclesial disunity of TEC?

In any case membership in the Anglican Communion is primarily between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops he recognizes and not between the See of Canterbury and Provinces. In may cases around the world bishops came before Provinces. It is upon this basis that the Archbishop may invite or disinvite bishops to conference with him.

However the bottom line in all this is a constant attempt to use coercive or reactive power to force conclusions. We have seen this in majoritarian rule by Synods and Conventions, bullying Primates abroad, coalitions and networks, so politicized that only structural means are contemplated. Where in all this is grace, compassion and love?