Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Canonical reappraisers

The Diocese of Fort Worth is putting forward a new canon, Canon 32, which attempts to describe a way for the parish and the diocese to deal with each other should the parish wish to leave the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Now think about this: This is a process where a parish that wants to remain in the Episcopal Church (of which the Diocese is apart) must go through if they want to stay in the Episcopal Church should the leadership in Fort Worth decides to attempt to take their diocese into another province.

Clearly, they are attempting to learn the lessons of San Joaquin, where the actions of the bishop and diocesan convention left many questions unanswered. Right now, it is unclear as to which clergy in that diocese are now members of Southern Cone or the Episcopal Church, not to mention how many parishes actually voted to leave versus those who wish to stay. This has created a situation where some clergy and parishes appear to be in neither province.

But the detailed rules pf Canon 32 highlight something strange about the thinking of those who want the Anglican communion to realign and want to punish and/or abandon the Episcopal Church.

In the minds of the people planning the separation of dioceses and parishes from the Episcopal Church, the role of both the parish and the diocese are re-envisioned in strange ways.

If you live and worship in Virginia or Connecticut or places where the separatist parish wants to leave the loyal diocese, then they say that the parish is the central and basic unit of the church. In this case, they want their members, the courts and the rest of us to believe that the parish has everything a community needs to be the church. In effect, these parishes are their own denominational entities and the dioceses and provinces to which they belong are a matter of congregational choice.

In these places, the burden is on the diocese loyal to the Episcopal church to accommodate the parish that wants to break away and join a foreign province or invented jurisdiction.

But if you live and worship in a reasserting diocese like Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquin, the diocese is the basic and sole unit of ministry. In these places, the parish is a constituent part of the diocese, and it is the diocese that has within in everything a community needs to be the church. They say that it is the diocese that is in effect a stand-alone entity and provincial allegiance is a matter of diocesan choice. Which means that if a you a parish loyal to the Episcopal Church, it is the parish that must bear the burden of proving that they must separate from the diocese to remain apart of the Episcopal Church.

In both scenarios--diocese as central, or parish as the most basic-- you will hear the separatists talk about "canonical fundamentalism." Get it? The spin on this spit-ball is that if you are person who attempts to live within the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church, then you are a "fundamentalist." The only time I have ever been called a fundamentalist (since I was a teenager) is when I have said that my ordination vows actually mean something. That's the point of the spin, because you know how we Episcopalians just hate fundamentalism!

I guess that means that these folks are canonical reappraisers. Being a canonical reappraiser means chaos, double-speak, distraction which is at the heart of their inventive view of our common life.

Being a canonical reappraiser starts with elevating the preamble of the constitution to the level of holy writ, while at the same time ignoring--or outright disparaging--the trust and discipline clauses of the canons. It means being a strict constructionist when it suits and a living document proponent when you need it. Like steering a boat through stormy waters, there is only one landmark that makes canonial reappraising work--"we want to leave the Episcopal Church and do as much damage as possible on the way out."

Katie Sherrod over at Desert's Child describes canonical reappriasing at work in her diocese. She calls this weird landscape Canon32Land:

It is a place where a canon developed in the Diocese of Dallas to deal with parishes wanting to leave a diocese of The Episcopal Church has been twisted to apply to parishes who want to stay in The Episcopal Church while the diocesan leadership tries to take the diocese out of The Episcopal Church.
She has published the entire proposed canon, with commentary.

1 comment:

Aghaveagh said...

I came here from the website for St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, CA, where I read your warm and gracious comment in response to a former Episcopalian who was ashamed ever to be a part of the Church.

I'm a member of Holy Family Episcopal Church in Fresno. Well, great news in our neck of the woods--an upcoming convention, a new bishop--we might even get back to being dull, boring Episcopalians again!

I'm surprised I've never come across your blog before--I very much enjoyed reading your current posts and hope to delve into the archives.

If ever I find myself in Easton, I'll be sure to visit your church.