The Episcopal Church has been likened to an ocean-going liner that is headed on a path towards shipwreck. In our case, the captain appears not only prepared to go down with the ship, but intent on herself taking the ship down. Expensive litigation, disregard for the church’s canons, and the rejection of Jesus’ own words in the gospel can only serve to further weaken and divide the church. Meanwhile many of her officers and crew are below decks puncturing the hull.
The turning radius of the Titanic as she approached the fatal iceberg on the Atlantic in 1912 was nearly three quarters of a mile. Many would agree that the good ship Episcopal is already within that radius, headed for unavoidable disaster. “We are in schism,” wrote our own bishop from the Lambeth Conference on July 30. Ephraim Radner, a member of the international Covenant Design Group of the Anglican Communion, has called for “an orderly separation”, echoing the bishop of Winchester’s comments during the Lambeth Conference.
To take the imagery further, many have let down lifeboats. The Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Province of America, the Charismatic Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Episcopal Church and a whole host of forty or more others (most of them small splinter groups), are made up of individuals and congregations that have departed from the Episcopal Church over the past thirty years.
Meanwhile, others have brought their own rescue vessels alongside, with the offer of taking endangered Episcopalian parishioners, congregations, and now even dioceses, into protective custody. The Anglican provinces of Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and the Southern Cone have all taken these measures over the past six years or so.
To join with either of these movements is tempting. Yet there is a difficulty. We know where the Episcopal Church is headed. Yet we cannot be certain that where either the lifeboats or the rescue vessels will take us is any better. Most of the lifeboats are likely to remain just that: small clusters of angry people who find their identity in being in opposition to the teachings of the Episcopal Church, and who will eventually sink into oblivion.
There is considerably more hope in the rescue vessels. Increasingly, they are working in synchrony, under the banner of the Common Cause Partners. In addition, the archbishops of the respective provinces have made it clear that their actions are intended to provide only a temporary sanctuary until a more permanent solution is found—in our case the establishment of a new Anglican province on North American soil.
However, there are factors that make this a very fragile convoy: differences of opinion over the role and ordination of women in the church, the issue of continuing overlapping jurisdictions within the province itself, and the question as to whether the new province will ever gain recognition throughout the Anglican Communion, to name just three. Each of these could seriously compromise the seaworthiness of the new vessel, and potentially cause it to founder.