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PENTECOST LETTER

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost letter, which may be read in it’s entirety on the ACNS website or at Titus 1.9 should be read not simply to extract the actions “proposed” against Provinces which defy the moratoria.

The letter is a pained, even anguished reflection from an “elder brother” to a family, a family whose identity and behavior is sharply at odds with its calling and profession. The Archbishop magnifies our common identity in terms of the mission of the Church, brought to life on the Day of Pentecost.  It is no accident that Pentecost is immediately followed by the Feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the source and pattern of unity in community and community in unity.

The Archbishop clearly sets before us a pattern of inappropriate  behavior which goes beyond the matter of human sexuality and includes cross-border interventions, dioceses working out of step with their provinces and by implication the actions of individual bishops and other clergy whose activities are divisive and beyond the authority committed to them. While being careful not to draw “moral equivalents” to various inappropriate activities and actions, the Archbishop reminds us that all know which moratorium are clearly identified, and thus breaches of them invite consequences.  Again the Archbishop speaks as a pastor when he reminds the Communion that actions have consequences and that discipline in Christian terms is not intended to damn or even embarrass, but to invite repentance and reconciliation.

The letter clearly invites those Provinces which have established bases within the North American Provinces to disinvest themselves from such entanglements. The Archbishop does so not to create a hierarchy of error, but in   a consistent application of resistance to those who breach the moratoria identified in the Windsor Report, and by the Primates and the Joint Standing Committee of the Communion and by himself as primus inter pares.

Having chastised those whose actions are beyond their competence, he is careful to remain within his own.  He can and will remove erring provinces from participating in ecumenical agencies which are called to express the mind of the Communion to other churches. He will take similar action with reference to participation in pan-Anglican doctrinal and theological commissions, where, as he points out,  the participation of those who ignore theological consensus would be “eccentric”. As Archbishop, Rowan Williams has clear authority in these areas.  There are other more substantial agencies or Instruments over which the Archbishop shares authority.  To many these would seem to be the crucial agencies from which erring Provinces should be excluded.  The Archbishop makes it clear that he is inviting discipline in these areas too:

“I am aware that other bodies have responsibilities in questions concerned with faith and order, notably the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee. The latter two are governed by constitutional provisions which cannot be overturned by any one person’s decision alone, and there will have to be further consultation as to how they are affected. I shall be inviting the views of all members of the Primates’ Meeting on the handling of these matters with a view to the agenda of the next scheduled meeting in January 2011.”

It is heartening that the Archbishop recognizes and encourages those of us who feel called to remain and minister within TEC while remaining loyal to the wider Communion and its integrity.

The Archbishop also seeks to counter the fears of those who believe that the new Standing Committee differs in authority or competence from its predecessor.

The Archbishop’s letter is painful reading. It is obviously written in  distress, indeed in anguish. How humbling it must be for the leader of the third largest Christian community to admit to the world that the divisions and follies of a troubled planet are reflected within the Anglican family of churches. We should be grateful for +Rowan’s example and extend to him our affection and prayers.

10 Responses

  1. I appreciate the letter but I don’t see how it goes far enough. Your point that the archbishop is careful not to overstep his own authority is fair. He cannot tell the ACC what to do, at least not alone. But he certainly can determine whether or not to invite someone to the Primates’ Meeting. No Primates’ Meeting will have legitimacy, or much attendance, if KJS is allowed to stroll in and set the terms.

  2. I would expect that he will seek advice from the primates before so doing. I am confident this will happen.

  3. I have a question, explicitly not leaving aside the question of drawing “’moral equivalents’ to various inappropriate activities and actions.”

    I would ask what properly constituted repentance and reconciliation, particularly repentance, would look like:

    a. for a body which has ordained clergy and elevated to the episcopacy persons openly engaged in a practicing homosexual relationship; and

    b. for a body which has planted or adopted parishes located within the boundaries of another member body of the Anglican Communion.

    It seems to me that these very practical questions bear rather heavily on whether there is any substance, and if so, how much, underlying +Cantuar’s painful expression and discussion of consequences.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  4. Keith, I think we are left with these rather ad hoc measures until the matter of a Covenant is settled. If the Covenant gains substantial support then and only then may there by further discipline other than disinviting individuals to meetings. And yet from the beginning, the relationship between Canterbury and the Communion has been personal, between the sitting archbishop and individual bishops rather than between the Archbishop and Provinces.

  5. Thank you, Father. I wasn’t particularly looking at the consequences as I am curious as to what you, or others, might consider to be actions that constitute necessary and sufficient signs of repentance.

    Clearly, in each case something besides an “Oops, we’re terribly sorry” would seem to be called for. But, I would think that, on each side, the party “offended” (for lack of a more suitable general term), might reasonably expect to see the offending actions “undone,” to give just one example.

    If such were the case, it would be fairly easy for one side to “undo” its offensive action, to wit, the “border crossers” could remove any direct support or leadership from the planted/adopted parishes. If I understand recent events correctly, this has already been done by Uganda and Kenya, and Nigeria is reportedly in the process of doing so, leaving only Rwanda, I think.

    On the other side, how does one undo the ordination of clergy, or the elevation of a cleric to the Episcopacy? Of course, I already know the answer to this, one cannot accomplish this. The only meaningful solution is to “depose” the cleric, not undoing the ordination, but removing the license to exercise the gifts of ordination/elevation. That is, I would strongly suspect, an unacceptable outcome for TEC. In fact, given Anaheim 2009 and the Presiding Bishop’s recent missive, I would confidently surmise that the option of refraining from repeating the offense is also not a matter for discussion with TEC. Somehow, that doesn’t really look like repentance to me, and I suspect that I am not alone.

    Therefore, to elucidate the point I was trying to get at by asking the initial question, it seems to me that we have here a situation that, in military terms, might well be described as assymetrical. And I am unclear concerning how the Covenant might be used to resolve that assymetry. My understanding is that it is solely a “prospective” solution, not a retrospective one.

    If my understangin is am correct, then the Covenant seems to me to be a ‘dead letter’ insofar as the current unpleasantness is concerned. Am I overlooking something significant?

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  6. Sorry about the garbled edit near the end. It should read:

    “If my understanding is correct, then …

  7. Keith has really hit the nail on the head. If the Archbishop wants to try to punish some provinces by removing them from various bodies or commissions, that is one thing. But how does he resolve this in the end? How do his offending provinces come back into his good graces? Is writing an ‘I’m sorry’ note good enough?

    The Episcopal Church will never bow down to the Archbishop of Canterbury or any wider Anglican authority. It is as independent as the United States of America, and it will stay that way. This church was born in the American Revolution and blessed by Scottish, not English, bishops. The Episcopal Church will not acquiesce on the issue of homosexuality, women’s ordination, racism, or anything else as far as the wider Communion is concerned.

    On the issue of homosexuality, the Episcopal Church has moved on. It is not for TEC to go back to any sort of moratorium. On the contrary, we now wait for the rest of the Communion to catch up to us. This ship will not be turned off course.

    Likewise, how do provinces who crossed boundaries and promoted schism make amends for their sins? What can Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the Southern Cone possibly do or say to make amends for the damage they have done to the Episcopal Church and to the Anglican Communion? Do they make financial remuneration to TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada?

    And will these border-crossing provinces ever renounce the un-Christian bigotry and prejudice that is used as public justification for their sins?

    No, the Archbishop has come up with another meaningless punishment that avoids the ultimate resolution of this conflict. And no Anglican Covenant will solve it.

    The churches of the Communion simply must decide whether they can forgive each other and work together for Christ, or leave the Communion. I am confident that Canada and the U.S. will choose to stay in the Communion on their own terms. We will see what happens with the other provinces.

    Scott Stockburger

  8. To be honest, I did not know phyletism is alive and well in the Anglican Communion!

  9. The problem is that the archbishop is not an elder brother, nor an elder. The churches of the communion are not subject to him. In fact, there is no reason why any of the primates or for that matter any of the bishops could not issue their own letter. “Primus inter pares” is not an office of control.

    Yes he can toss a few Americans and others off of various commissions or boards. Yes, he can save some primates the time to travel to the next UN-EMPOWERED meeting. But he is not, as ABp Akinola famously observed, between us and God.

    FWIW
    jimB

  10. Canterbury, like it or not is “primus inter pares” and thus an elder brother, and “eldership” has nothing at all to do with jurisdiction. It is a “gathering”, advising, warning, encouraging role, into which is built in a certain authority to invite or not invite participation in the counsels of the Communion. Such an authority is not newly “grasped”. It was used in Rwanda recently, in South Africa forty years ago and of course in gathering the bishops to Lambeth in 2008.

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