Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Asking for Something that Doesn't Exist--Again


Here is the whole problem with "APO" or Alternative Primatial Oversight (the idea that appeared like a jack-in-the-box on both the floors of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops before the clapping died away after Bishop Jefferts Schorie was elected and confirmed as the 26th Presiding Bishop): It is based on an constitutional premise that does not exist. The premise for their action is phony and weak.

Here is the whole problem with a proposed Province X: it is asking for something for which a constitutional process does exist; but, unless someone calls for a special convention, it cannot be acted on for three more years.

So their premise is bad and their timing stinks--unless of course you want to avoid constitutional processes and batter the Episcopal Church into submission. Even if the processes we have were followed, it does not mean that what they request is not filled with danger.

First, lets look at what exactly the six diocese are asking to have an alternate version of. They want some sort of alternative chief pastor to be their own primate.

In our Episcopal Church, the primate is a person without a whole lot of direct authority. The presiding bishop chairs the House of Bishops. The presiding bishop is the chief denominational executive. The presiding bishop is the chief consecrator at episcopal ordinations. And the presiding bishop is the primate, who sits with the other leaders of the 38 independent Anglican churches around the world. In our Church, the Presiding Bishop cannot hire or fire anyone in any diocese; she cannot choose any bishop or fill any post outside of the structures of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. So in terms of oversight, there is not much thereto oversee.

The only thing that the Dioceses that want APO won't get is a woman's hand on the head of some future bishop. They would probably like to avoid having that bishop set her foot on their turf as well, but even this is not guaranteed.

To fix this, they want to jump over the Constution of the Episcopal Church and go to an authority that is out of reach to our own processes. So they appeal to Canterbury.

We in America are very fond of the Archbishop of Canterbury; we listen carefully to him, and having him helps us remember our heritage but he is not our denominational leader. The Archbishop of Canterbury is no more our leader now than he was when he turned aside Samuel Seabury.

The Presiding Bishop is our denominational executive, but our denominational leader is General Convention. While too much is made of the supposed correlations between the US Constitution and the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, there is one crucial connection. We are a constitutional body.

I cannot stress this enough. We are a constitutional body. When a bishop, deacon or priest "solemnly engage(s) to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church" it is to the Constitutional nature of the Church that the cleric promises to uphold. My orders may be considered valid in the Church of England or in the other churches of the Communion, but I am not beholden to them. I am beholden to the Episcopal Church.

The discipline of the Church are found in the Constitution and Canons. They tell us something of our common life and how we live and function together. Is it dry reading? You bet. Is it concerned with small technical details? Yes. Does it leave out the nuances of daily life in the congreagtion. Sure. But it is also a living document that sets out the framework for how we are to be together inChristian community.

The doctrine and worship of the Episcopal Church are found in the Book of Common Prayer, which is also a framework for how we are to be together. It encompasses our theology, our core beliefs and models again how we are to be in community together in Christ. The Prayer Book is a constituional document.

We must keep this in front of us, because it is essential in framing the discussion about what it means to be in Communion. Far too often, we hear of Communion and independence as if they are two ends of a long pole. The two are in fact intertwined. They are expressions of how our community is consituted--how we are and how are to be.

What the Bishops and Dioceses of Fort Worth, Springfield, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Central Florida and San Joaquin are asking for (and now, Dallas which makes seven) is nothing short than a departure from our constitutional way of being. They ask for something that they cannot obtain on their own: they want to be apart of the Episcopal Church without being constitutionally connected to it.

To have a different primate oversee their ministries and common life and yet remain in the Episcopal Church is to create for these dioceses a constitutional exception. Like the Connecticut Six, they want to adhere to themselves all the perogotives of being a separate denomination while still being under the umbrella of the Episcopal Church.

They ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene which, leaving aside the fact that he just told us very clearly that he does not see his role as being "the decider" in these matters, is not constitutional. The Archbishop of Canterbury has no authority in any Anglican Province outside his own. If he gets to call the shots and decide how these six dioceses relate to a primate of their own choosing, it will be because we gave him the authority to do it--at the expense of our whole community.

Just as with the so-called Connecicut Six, these six dioceses are asking for something that cannot be given either practically or constitutionally. They don't so much want to change the system as to have the system accomodate them at the expense of the other dioceses in the Episcopal Chruch. Regardless of the strength or weakness of their theologial argument, the ask for something that cannot be given and so create this crisis for themselves.

Maybe a non-contiguous province for dissenting dioceses and parishes is a good thing. You'd have to sell me on the idea, but let's assume it is: we have to form it through General Convention. The Archbishop of Canterbury can't just create one out of thin air.

If someone tries to create a parellel structure or a new province that Canterbury (or Lagos) would recognize before another General Convention, then it will have to a separately incorporated body. In other words, a new church.

Maybe having an alternative to Bishop Jefferts Schori is the right thing to do pastorally. You'd also have to sell me on that one, too, but let's assume it is: the altnerative primate (or representative--a primate after all is not a fourth order of ordained ministry) would still represent the primate of this Church.

If the six (now seven) diocese want their own primate and not merely a representative of the one they have, and if they want one that will be recognized by Canterbury (or Lagos), then they will have to have a separately constituted church. That's right, a new church.

All of this assumes that the constitutional processes within each of the six (seven) diocese themselves even allow for what their bishops and standing committees are proposing.

The demands of the Connecticut Six bogged down in court for all the reasons that the request of these six dioceses will bog down.

If these dioceses want a new province and if they want some kind of alternative oversight, they have two choices. These are two choices that they are working very hard to avoid because their goal is still to be the Anglican Brand in the USA. Choice One is to trust the process and work within the constitutional system they have, that they signed on to, and participate in. They will have to trust the people and processes that they are in rebellion against to help get them to their desired goal. Given the speed with which these dioceses (and their African ally) has pulled the trigger, trusting the process is unlikely.

Choice Two is to recognize that the only way they are going to obtain the rights and perogatives of being their own independent ecclesial unit free of the constitutional requirements of being in the Episcopal Church.

There is, of course, a Third Choice. But this will require learning to trust, learning to listen, and to put aside ones rights and perogotives for the sake of the whole body and perhaps listen to what God is teaching us in learning to be obedient to a structure we didn't plan on and do not control.

Some of the folks who have created for themselves this pickle spoke at Convention about being clear and honest in their language. It is time for them to practice what they preach, because the longer they try to have it both ways, the more it hurts everyone.

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