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WHILE I WAS AWAY

I managed to be out of the country for most of the time General Convention met and for that period of reflection which came after the bishops and deputies returned to the reality of their respective homes and jobs. Of course even at a safe distance, in Yorkshire, Scotland and then County Durham, I heard and read of the decisions our leaders made for us. Mercifully not one of my relatives, well except for my older son, and he in passing, had the slightest interest in what TEC was up to in California. I was thus not drawn into the emotions surrounding TEC’s convoluted decisions to go it’s own way, wrapped in the mantle of exceptionalism and prophecy.
Towards the end of my stay in Durham, I did meet it’s Bishop a few times, unaware during our brief conversations that he exhibits megalomania ( as English Liberals in Changing Attitudes proclaim.)  Indeed Bishop Wright was approachable, humorous and very kind. But then I am an unashamed fan of his biblical writings and admire his integrity and purpose. It is not +Tom Wright who suggests that he is a prophet with a special message from God.
(My son Mark is now a priest in the Diocese of Durham, a lecturer at Cranmer Hall seminary and in the history department at the University there, as he reads for his doctorate and helps out in local parishes: the energy of youth!)
Again I am in the minority over here when I welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury’s measured and charitable response to the actions of General Convention on the ordination of partnered, sexually expressive persons of the same gender or the blessing, aka marriage, of same sex couples. I was amazed to read that some people didn’t understand what he was saying and that others thought he said too much. If one reads much of +Rowan’s work, the ideas of patience and civility come over with gentle firmness. The Archbishop obviously doesn’t think that drawing damning conclusions about behavior, however duplicitous, furthers conversation. He is not adopting the role of a Victorian father and ordering TEC and the Canadians from hearth and home, never to darken the doors of Lambeth Palace again. What he does say, again firmly and gently, is that actions have consequences and that those consequences cannot be evaded by equivocal or contradictory interpretations or an appeal to what were once described as “situation ethics.”  The consequence of going it alone is obviously a measure of disassociation, particularly if a Covenant is adopted by most of the Communion and rejected by General Convention.
American Episcopalians should not resent the fact that people overseas do not accept on face value claims that TEC has been uniquely singled out to teach the rest of the Communion God’s alleged new line on ethics. I remember being in Westminster Abbey as a young man. I was walking with a cleric of the Abbey when we saw a young fellow standing on a chair and addressing a group of bystanders. Michael approached the young man, who obviously was not a tour guide, and asked him who he was and what he was doing. He replied that he was a Latter Day Saint and was talking to his followers. Michael replied, “Stuff and nonsense!  If God had wanted to give a new revelation in the 19th. Century it would have been to an Englishman.”  Quite so.
Prophecy, we are informed by Scripture, is to be tested. At this moment most of the Communion, in varying degrees, is not convinced that what TEC prophesies is the authentic Word of God. TEC on the other hand, and its Canadian Anglican friends are convinced that the majority voice of a General Convention is an authentic expression of the will of the Holy Spirit. I suppose one might conclude that this theory is a sort of collectivized version of the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, despite the fact that Anglicans have always held that the Church is indefectible but not infallible and that Councils do err, even ones which meet in California. One would be much happier if a trace of humility accompanied claims to Pneumatic Inspiration. But as with the matter of Health Care in the US, temperate reason has left our discourse, and partisans to the right of us and those to the left fire salvos at each other, shots which rarely hit home, but fly off over heads to hit those caught in a battle not of their making.
In a sense I am relieved that TEC has now charted its course. It is perhaps alarming to realize that one now belongs to a tiny minority in a largely monochrome church. It would be ironic if I found myself, once again, in a body out of communion with the wider Anglican world, a church whose leaders once chided me for being an Anglican in a “continuing church.”. God does have a sense of humor. In the meantime we must hope and pray that the Communion Partners Bishops take strength and require that faithful Anglicans in TEC be given a way to remain in communion with the See of Canterbury and space to get on with the task of talking about Jesus the Saviour.  We shall see. My son Mark believes that we should refrain from being distracted by issues and, emulating the Evangelicals and Tractarians who began to call the church back to mission as small groups of dedicated people without power or influence, get on with the work of evangelism.

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