The Bishop of Virginia has inhibited 21 clergy of the Diocese who renounced their allegiance to the Episcopal Church when they become apart of CANA, the North American mission of the Church of Nigeria under their new bishop, Martyn Minn. This action is neither surprising nor alarming. It is the process at work. Over at Kendall Harmon's blog Titusonenine, he links to the story to the Living Church website.
(Stand Firm claims that there are actually 23 clergy who were inhibited, and lists two additional names, but that is not what the Diocese of Virginia says.)
But, just the same, let the whining begin! Expect the usual flurry of news releases and blogs and other comment echoing the same themes. Here, here and here. The spin from these groups is something like "Wait! You can't fire us, we quit!" and "We quit! How dare you fire us?"
It is not surprising that most of the comments on T-one-9 are negative, as are those on Stand Firm and BabyBlueOnLine. They characterize the 21 clergy as saints and martyrs while calling Bishop Lee misguided at best or a devil at worst. The truth is that Bishop Lee is neither. He is following the canons he has sworn to uphold.
On the other hand, all of the twenty one clergy have by their own words and actions stated that they have left the Episcopal Church and now are doing ministry under the authority of a Bishop consecrated by the Church of Nigeria. The procedures Lee have initiated simply recognizes what the clergy themselves have already said: they are no longer priests of This (The Episcopal) Church but of Another (Nigerian) Church.
No one is saying that these are bad people, or even that their orders are suddenly invalidated. The process means that they cannot function as priests in the Episcopal Church. That's all. Since they don't want to be priests in the Episcopal Church, this should neither be a problem nor a hardship for them.
But the complaints and the howling have begun. It is expedient that these people are styled as martyrs of an apostate church hell-bent on persecuting dissenters. It is much more rewarding, I suppose, than simply claiming responsibility for ones own choices and moving on.
This sad episode is one more example of the way in which the seceding churches want it both ways. I wrote the following on the HOBD list last week after Bishop Lee declared the departing Virginia parishes abandoned. The were howls of complaint and hurt feelings then, which I expect will be repeated this week.
Of course, Archbishop Akinola and others urged the CANA and Network clergy and their congregations to stand up for what is right, do the sacrificial thing, trust God and leave the property behind. But then again, the leaders of CANA, just like the Connecticut Six and other secessionists want it both ways.
Once again the groups want to have it both ways. They want to be treated as if they are in Communion with Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia while at once claiming that they are out of communuion with the Episcopal Church and the Diocese. Once again, their own action leaves the Episcopal Church and the Diocese little room within which to work and then blame us for the situation that they themselves created. Once more they claim rights and privileges for themselves that they refuse to return to the church and diocese they just seceded from.
Even if the Diocese of Virginia concedes the point that the CANA Congregations are part and parcel of the Church of Nigeria and that therefore they can claim some legitimate Anglican DNA, the Diocese would still have to declare the parishes "abandoned" and would have to deal with the clergy in some manner.
The Bishop might have had some room to transfer the clergy's canonical residence except that the Anglican Communion office itself said that CANA was not apart of the Communion in any way shape or form. What counts in determining who is in or out of the Communion is what the ABC and the constitutional structures of the Anglican Consultative Council say who is in Communion. They have said that as of this moment CANA has no standing. End of story.
The CANA Clergy have left the Episcopal Church and joined another denomination, albeit one within the Anglican Communion. They have done this outside of the normal canonical channels that are clearly stated for all to see. We have only one way to deal with clergy who have acted this way: they face first inhibition and then deposition. They will, of course, ignore this and continue on their way, but they will do so as clergy of another church than the one that had previously ordained and licensed. This process says nothing about the legitimacy of their orders or even the quality of their ministry, but everything about under whose authority they excercise it.
Since they have openly renounced the authority of their previous Bishop, they can't very well cry 'foul!' when that Bishop acts accordingly.
The CANA clergy and the CANA congregations can't have it both ways. They cannot claim to be able to have their residencies transferred while at the same time serving a church that has declared itself out of communion with us. Remember Nigeria severed the relationship with the Episcopal Church, not the other way round, when they declared themselves in impaired communion and cut off direct official ties.
As for the Congregations, the people voted to leave voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join another denomination. The new denomination should be responsible for helping them arrange new space. The responsible thing would have been for the new entity to be sure that new space was arranged before the votes were taken rather than assuming that the space the congregation had occupied in their previous allegiance would simply automatically go with them. They should have negotiated purchases and transfer of title from the Diocese to the new entity or else bought/leased their own space. They would have had to have been patient with the process of due diligence and the actions of standing committees and council (Convention) to unwind the previous relationship. Instead, they simply voted to leave with none of that work properly done. In this both CANA and the Church of Nigeria have failed their new congregations in Virginia.
Again, the CANA congregations and clergy want it both ways. They want the privilege of claiming a relationship that they themselves chose to break.