20 September 2008

Where from here?

Along with the two previous articles (“The Episcopal Church and the Lambeth Quadrilateral” and “A Sinking Ship?”, these are words that I wrote to my parishioners earlier this month, before the deposition of Bob Duncan. That event has put parishes such as ours in an even more critical position, as will the reactions that will follow it both in the US and more widely in the Anglican Communion.

We stand at a crossroads. Decisions being made on a global level will have repercussions that may reach down through generations. Although on a smaller scale, the same holds true on the local level as well. How do we remain part of a church that, though necessarily flawed and incomplete, still manages to exhibit the creedal characteristics of unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity?

The final paragraph of the Windsor Report, now four years in the past, is both prophetic and sobering:

There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart. We would much rather not speculate on actions that might need to be taken if, after acceptance by the primates, our recommendations are not implemented. However, we note that there are, in any human dispute, courses that may be followed: processes of mediation and arbitration; non-invitation to relevant representative bodies and meetings; invitation, but to observer status only; and, as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership. We earnestly hope that none of these will prove necessary. Our aim throughout has been to work not for division but for healing and restoration. The real challenge of the gospel is whether we live deeply enough in the love of Christ, and care sufficiently for our joint work to bring that love to the world, that we will “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3). As the primates stated in 2000, “to turn from one another would be to turn away from the Cross”, and indeed from serving the world which God loves and for which Jesus Christ died.

There is ample evidence that many in the Anglican Communion, although refusing to acknowledge it, have by their actions chosen to “walk apart”. To date none of the Instruments of Communion, including most recently the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, has been successful in counteracting the trend. It appears that we are witnessing the gradual dissolution of the Anglican Communion, in Bishop Tom Wright’s words, “like a slow-moving train wreck”.

On a pragmatic level, where does that leave us at Messiah? There are a number of options available to us. What follows are five, but no doubt there are others as well.

(1) Do nothing. We could decide simply to hang tight, keep a low profile, and hope and pray for the best, all the time seeking to hold to our distinctives and to remain a place of lively orthodoxy. I would warn that this path is neither as simple nor as straightforward as it might at first appear.

(2) Reaffirm the Windsor Report. The Vestry has already expressed its commitment to the content and recommendations of the Windsor Report. While it seems that forces within the Communion have worked together to subvert the implementation of the report, the time may not quite have come for a final pronouncement of death. The Covenant Design Group continues to meet, and it may be that there is just enough energy left among the orthodox primates and bishops to make it work. In any event, once again endorsing the Windsor Report would be a moderate (some would say minimal) statement to our bishop and diocese that we choose to remain within the mainstream of Anglicanism and oppose the theological and moral innovations of many in the Episcopal Church.

(3) Apply for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. In March 2004 the Episcopal Church House of Bishops opened up the option of receiving pastoral care from a bishop other than the diocesan. The plan is outlined in a document entitled, “Caring for All the Churches” A number of churches across the country—both conservative parishes in liberal dioceses and liberal parishes in conservative dioceses—have already chosen this option, with varying degrees of success. A proposal to take this step has already been brought before our own Vestry and is under consideration. Presumably the delegated bishop would be available for consultation and godly advice, and for occasional liturgical events, principally confirmation. It should be noted that the stated purpose of the plan is “for reconciliation”.

(4) Seek to negotiate a redirection of diocesan apportionment monies. This is also a step that a number of parishes have taken, again involving negotiation with the bishop and other diocesan authorities. For a number of years the Episcopal Church has given support to a variety of questionable projects and causes. The current multi-million dollar litigations against parishes choosing to leave the denomination is a scandal and as such, insupportable. To allow for some choice as to the designation of apportionment funds, be it on an individual or a parish-wide level, may be seen as an act of responsible stewardship, as well as a grass-roots level opportunity to express opposition to the church’s actions.

(5) Plan to align with the “new province” when it forms. At this stage it appears unlikely that a new province on North American soil will receive broad endorsement from the rest of the Communion. The six GAFCon primates have for the time being held back from recognizing such an entity, perhaps until after the meeting of all the primates early in 2009. In a few days’ time Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will make the unprecedented move of calling upon the Episcopal Church House of Bishops to depose Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, without any previous inhibition, without en ecclesiastical trial, and following canonically questionable procedures. Within a month the convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh will vote on whether to transfer its out of the Episcopal Church and temporarily into the Province of the Southern Cone, joining the Diocese of San Joaquin, and likely to be followed by the Dioceses of Forth Worth and Quincy. This means that within a month or so the whole ball field will have altered, in that, technically at least, there is the possibility of the establishment of such a province. As to what this will lead to in terms of the wider Communion and of the barrage of legal suits that undoubtedly will be launched we can only speculate. Whatever the case, it will be a far cry from Ephraim Radner’s “orderly separation”.

I think we at Messiah need to take a careful look at each of these potential avenues. At this time I cannot tell exactly where that may lead, as I do not know what the future holds. My hope is only that we would do it within the framework of, and out of a deep commitment to, the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”.

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