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Meeting Task: Holding Anglican Communion Together

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    Meeting of Anglican Primates Facing Task in Holding Anglican Communion Together by Pat Griffith [Episcopal News Service] Many Episcopal churches are circling
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 8, 2003
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      Meeting of Anglican Primates Facing Task in Holding Anglican Communion

      by Pat Griffith

      [Episcopal News Service] Many Episcopal churches are circling the
      dates of October 15-16 in red this year. That is the time set aside
      by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams for an emergency meeting
      of the 38 primates, or archbishops/presiding bishops, of the Anglican
      Communion at Lambeth Palace in London.

      Williams is calling the primates together for prayer and private
      discussion about issues of human sexuality and Anglican teaching that
      have been raised since the General Convention of the Episcopal Church
      in August. In two controversial decisions, majorities of bishops,
      clergy and lay deputies confirmed the election of an openly
      homosexual bishop in New Hampshire and left the issue of blessing
      same-gender unions to the discretion of individual bishops in their
      own dioceses.

      Reactions across the broad landscape of the Episcopal Church have run
      the gamut from enthusiastic support to quiet agreement to bewilderment
      and personal anguish. At least some of the nation's 2.3 million
      Episcopalians are walking out the door to join other denominations.
      Others are focused on forming a new "orthodox" Anglican Church in the
      United States that they envision as separate from the Episcopal Church
      but still part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

      Some of the harshest criticism has come from abroad. Archbishop
      Bernard Malango, primate of the Province of Central Africa, was
      quoted by Episcopal News Service as saying that the decision of the
      General Convention "has shattered the Anglican Communion. Deep pain
      has been inflicted upon us all. We are now experiencing an
      overwhelming sense of loss of direction of the Anglican Communion."

      In a separate statement, Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo of
      the Church of Uganda chided Episcopalians for "separating themselves
      from the Anglican Communion family . . . leading your people astray
      into satanic ways."

      Anglican gifts

      In a letter to his fellow primates after the General Convention,
      Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said, "My own sense is that one of
      our Anglican gifts is to contain different theological perspectives
      within a context of common prayer." He said his mission is to help the
      church move forward in unity while "honoring the deeply held divergent
      points of view among us."

      In calling the primates to London for consultation, Williams expressed
      the hope that "we will find that there are ways forward in this
      situation which can preserve our respect for one another and for the
      bonds that unite us."

      Clearly that will be no small task, especially when vastly different
      expectations are being applied to the meeting. Will primates issue a
      consensus statement "agreeing to disagree" on homosexuality, and leave
      it at that? Will they chastise the Episcopal Church--or conclude the
      church has the will and ability to continue to live with internal
      differences and move on? What would it mean if a majority of primates
      were to favor the establishment of a new Anglican province within the
      United States? What would that entail and is it even possible?

      The constitution of the Episcopal Church, adopted in Philadelphia in
      1789, declares the church is "in communion with the See of
      Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as
      set forth in the Book of Common Prayer." It recognizes the General
      Convention -- not the Archbishop of Canterbury or the collective
      voice of primates around the world--as its highest governing

      The Archbishop of Canterbury's traditional authority within the
      Anglican Communion is, most simply, that of invitation. He alone
      can "invite" churches to be in communion with the See of Canterbury.
      He could withdraw that invitation but beyond that he has no
      additional authority, except his considerable stature as the primate
      of All England and bishopin the Diocese of Canterbury, to affect
      decisions of churches in the Anglican Communion.

      Advisory and consultative

      Traditionally, the Archbishop of Canterbury has called Anglican
      primates together "to take counsel together, to pray together and to
      look at their common concerns," the Rev. Ian Douglas, professor of
      Mission and World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in
      Cambridge, Massachusetts, explained in a telephone interview. In the
      past, they met every three years. More recently they have been
      meeting annually in various provinces, including Jerusalem, Portugal,
      Scotland, the United States and Brazil.

      Because the primates are not a legislative body, Douglas said, their
      gatherings typically have had the ambience of private, "relaxed
      retreats," at which the emphasis is on fellowship, Bible study, and
      issuing reports on topics of general interest. Their meetings
      usually conclude with the issuance of a pastoral letter, perhaps
      containing a call to action on a pressing concern, such as the AIDS
      epidemic or Third World debt and poverty.

      What happens next is up to each province and its own governing body.
      "Strictly speaking," Douglas said, "no church has authority over
      another church in communion. Unless the Episcopal Church takes action
      to deliberately ascribe to something coming out of a primates'
      meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no power over us.

      "Any inter-Anglican meeting is at best advisory and consultative." he
      continued. "We can't tell Kenya what to do, and Kenya can't tell us
      what to do. And neither of us can tell England or Australia."

      Yet this is not a routine meeting of primates. They have been
      summoned on short notice to discuss sexuality, the actions of the
      General Convention, and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada in
      blessing same-sex unions, and their impact on the unity of the
      Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. They will meet against
      a backdrop of controversy not experienced since 1976, when the
      General Convention approved the ordination of women and a revised
      Book of Common Prayer.

      Seeking intervention

      A week before the primates gather, the conservative American Anglican
      Council (AAC) is inviting "faithful orthodox" bishops, priests and lay
      Episcopalians to a meeting in Dallas on October 7-9. All who want to
      attend have been asked to sign a statement of faith and scriptural
      belief to assure that only "like-minded Anglicans" participate in

      In an advance statement, the conference leaders have announced they
      intend to ask Anglican Church primates "to intervene in this pastoral
      emergency" while they work "to prepare our congregations and
      ministries for possible realignment to insure an orthodox and vital
      Anglican/Episcopal presence in the United States."

      In a statement titled, "What is About to Happen," leaders of a related
      online "communion parishes" movement hypothesize that conservative
      primates might first try to strip the Episcopal Church of its vote and
      voice at Lambeth conferences and on Anglican commissions, and then
      attempt to persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish some
      form of "oversight" of the Episcopal Church to ensure its adherence
      to "the views of the majority."

      Finally, they suggest, if the Episcopal Church "persisted in its
      defiance of the views of the majority, it could be expelled from the
      Anglican Communion and a new jurisdiction would then be recognized as
      a representative part of the Anglican Communion."

      However, the Rev. Canon J. Patrick Mauney, executive director of the
      Office of Anglican and Global Relations at the Episcopal Church Center
      in New York, emphasizes that "the primates, as such, have no
      authority" over decisions taken by the General Convention of the
      Episcopal Church.

      No democracy

      Primates' Meetings "are not exclusively and never have been an
      exercise in democracy," Douglas said. It is the Archbishop of
      Canterbury who decides whether a bishop or group is in communion with
      the See of Canterbury. Therefore, he said, conservatives opposed to
      the actions of the General Convention could theoretically claim to
      have the "votes" of every primate to "expel" the Episcopal Church
      from the Anglican Communion, and that alone would not be decisive.
      There's no "vote," Douglas said, "unless the Archbishop cedes his
      authority and says he's going to abide by the views of a majority."

      The drive to increase the authority of prelates in the Anglican
      Communion and give them the tools to discipline individual provinces
      is coming from conservative members who believe the Episcopal Church
      has moved beyond the bounds of "acceptable" Anglican teaching.

      "I think that's going to be well neigh impossible," said the Rt. Rev.
      Catherine Roskam, suffragan bishop of the Diocese of New York, who
      serves on the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). "No body of the
      Anglican community has that kind of power, and canonically it would
      be a legal nightmare to centralize authority. It would undermine, if
      not destroy, the essential character of our identity as Anglicans--a
      worshiping church gathered together in communion, not a doctrinal
      church under a magisterial authority."

      The procedure for forming a new province within the Anglican Communion
      is centered in the Anglican Consultative Council, made up of 100-plus
      lay and clergy members drawn from the present 38 provinces. Every
      province has at least one person sitting on the council, and,
      depending upon size, may have up to three representatives. As a large
      province, the Episcopal Church is entitled to three members-a bishop,
      a priest and a lay person-who are elected by the Executive Council.

      Forming a new province

      The Rev. Bob Sessum, rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in
      Lexington, Kentucky, sits on the ACC, along with Roskam and Judith
      Conley, lay member from Goodyear, Arizona.. For this article Sessum
      described the time-consuming process that would be necessary before a
      second province could be recognized in the United States. Since the
      geographic United States is already a province, it would have to be
      split in some manner for another province to be formed. This has
      never before happened for doctrinal reasons.

      The ACC requires the presiding officer or primate of the original
      province to request it to begin the process leading to division. That
      could be the first formidable hurdle for a theoretical new Anglican
      province in the United States. "I don't envision the presiding bishop
      of the Episcopal Church requesting such a division," Sessum said.

      Conservatives suggest a potential new "North American Anglican
      province" could incorporate scattered pockets taken from dioceses
      throughout the country, and possibly a handful of entire dioceses.
      Were this to come about, one might envision the geographic Episcopal
      Church looking like a piece of Swiss cheese, with the "holes"
      belonging to a totally separate Anglican province. This would be
      something dramatically new: one province overlaid on another, with
      the two not in communion with each other, yet both part of the
      Anglican Communion.

      "The general polity has been that dioceses shouldn't overlap,"Mauney
      said, though there are a few special exceptions. The Church of New
      Zealand has three bishops serving distinct population groups, but they
      are part of the same province. Episcopal expatriate churches in
      Europe operate in close concert, while the Church of England
      permits "flying bishops" to serve churches that refuse to accept the
      ordination of women. However, these flying bishops are connected to
      the Church of England and don't have independent geographic

      Long process

      It is a near certainty that Bishop Griswold would seek approval from
      the General Convention before making any proposal to the ACC. In an
      interview with the Associated Press on Sept. 29, he noted that
      authorizing a separate Anglican province "would involve our own
      decision-making processes, our own constitution. So most likely it
      would require action by the General Convention." The next General
      Convention is scheduled to meet in 2006.

      When the Secretary General of the ACC receives a request to establish
      a new province, the matter is turned over to a subcommittee to be
      sure all rules and regulations are followed. They have to consider
      all the financial arrangements, including clergy pension plans, how
      dioceses would be established in the new province, and the
      availability of clergy and bishops. A split of the Episcopal Church
      would involve negotiations, and quite possibly lawsuits, within
      scores of dioceses over the division of property and liquid assets.

      When the subcommittee is satisfied all is in order, it sends a
      recommendation for approval to the eight-person standing committee of
      the ACC, chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury. If the standing
      committee gives the green light, their recommendation moves on to the
      38 primates for approval. And finally, when that is accomplished, the
      Archbishop of Canterbury declares the formation of a new province and
      invites it into the Anglican Communion.

      Sessum said the ACC process takes anywhere from 18 months to three
      years or even longer, and the next ACC meeting isn't scheduled until
      2005. Establishing a new province is "not done at the snap of a
      finger," he said, "and it's just not going to be resolved one way or
      the other at the Primates' Meeting. . . . There's not anything the
      Archbishop of Canterbury or the primates can do (about forming a new
      province) right now."

      Scary and unknown reality

      As the global debate over human sexuality continues, Douglas said the
      true nature of the Anglican Communion turns out to be "a lot messier
      than the people on either the right or left want to believe. We've
      really grown as a somewhat haphazard communion of churches, where none
      of us can say we have no need of each other, and yet there is no one
      form to follow."

      He points out that there are four churches within the Anglican
      Communion that are not exclusively Anglican, but a blend
      of "different stripes of Protestantism." These are the churches of
      Pakistan, Bangladesh, North India and South India.

      "There has been an incredible growth in the Anglican Communion from
      its beginnings as basically a North Atlantic communion of English-
      speaking people. We're moving into a scary and unknown new
      reality . . . and the challenge for all of us is how we move from a
      mono-cultural communion to the radical plurality of peoples and
      cultures. "Some have the idea we can 'neaten it up.' That's never
      been our history."

      -- This article originally appeared in the parish paper of St.
      Margaret's Episcopal Church in Belfast, Maine
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