Monday, November 20, 2006

Presiding Bishop Writes to San Joaquin Bishop

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori -- concerned by current affairs in the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin, California -- has written to its bishop, the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield. The diocese, which is scheduled to meet in convention December 1-2, includes an estimated 10,000 Episcopalians in some 48 congregations. The text of Jefferts Schori's November 20 letter was released today by Episcopal News Service and is reproduced in full below.

Anyone wishing to contact Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori may contact her at
815 Second Avenue New York City, NY 10017
(212) 716-6276 • (800) 334-7626

November 20, 2006

The Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield
Diocese of San Joaquin
4159 E. Dakota Avenue
Fresno, California 93726

My dear brother:

I have seen reports of your letter to parishes in the Diocese of San Joaquin, which apparently urges delegates to your upcoming Diocesan Convention to take action to leave the Episcopal Church. I would ask you to confirm the accuracy of those reports. If true, you must be aware that such action would likely be seen as a violation of your ordination vows to "uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them." I must strongly urge you to consider the consequences of such action, not only for yourself but especially for all of the Episcopalians under your pastoral charge and care.

I certainly understand that you personally disagree with decisions by General Conventions over the past 30 and more years. You have, however, taken vows three times over that period to uphold the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church." If you now feel that you can no longer do so, the more honorable course would be to renounce your orders in this Church and seek a home elsewhere. Your public assertion that your duty is to violate those vows puts many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence. I urge you, as a pastor, to consider that hazard with the utmost gravity.

As you contemplate this action I would also remind you of the trust which you and I both hold for those who have come before and those who will come after us. None of us has received the property held by the Church today to use as we will. We have received it as stewards, for those who enjoy it today and those who will be blessed by the ministry its use will permit in the future. Our forebears did not build churches or give memorials with the intent that they be removed from the Episcopal Church. Nor did our forebears give liberally to fund endowments with the intent that they be consumed by litigation.

The Church will endure whatever decision you make in San Joaquin. The people who are its members, however, will suffer in the midst of this conflict, and probably suffer unnecessarily. Jesus calls us to take up our crosses daily, but not in the service of division and antagonism. He calls us to take up our crosses in his service of reconciling the world to God. Would that you might lead the people of San Joaquin toward decisions that build up the Body, that bring abundant life to those within and beyond our Church, that restore us to oneness.

I stand ready for conversation and reconciliation. May God bless your deliberation.

I remain

Your servant in Christ,

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ironies, Ideologies, and Inconsistencies

This essay appeared in "The Rector's Ruminations" column of the November 12 issue of the Agape newsletter, by the Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh. It provides an insider's view of what transpired during Pittsburgh's diocesan convention during the weekend of November 3. The interior of Calvary's church is pictured below.

Ironies, Ideologies, and Inconsistencies: Reflections on the 141st Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh
The Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis

The ironies were lost on no one. While thousands of Episcopalians – bishops, priests, deacons and layfolk, not to mention ecumenical and inter-faith supporters, gathered in the Cathedral Church of SS. Peter & Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington for the Investiture of the duly elected 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, meeting in convention 200 miles to the west, voted overwhelmingly to reject the new Primate’s authority, and to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint and dispatch an “alternative” primate. The stated objection to the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori was that her doctrinal views unfit her for the office. The Bishop of Pittsburgh (a.k.a. the Moderator of the Network of Anglican Dioceses and Parishes) acknowledged that the request for alternative primatial oversight was “novel,” but in what could be called a tit-for-tat approach to theology, justified his actions by saying that they were less novel than the theological “innovations” espoused by Bishop Jefferts Schori!

Another irony: In the final hour of Convention, the Rector of Ligonier moved that the clergy and lay deputies assembled express their profound gratitude and appreciation for the work done by the Very Reverend George Werner, in his capacity as president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. The resolution cited Dean Werner’s fairness, his commitment to keeping people of all theological and political stripes “at the table,” and the grace and aplomb with which he acquitted himself in his office. As the delegates rose and gave a thunderous round of applause, did they remember that three years ago, ignoring the very qualities they were now recognizing, they failed to re-elect the said Dean Werner as a deputy to General Convention, an action which had the direct effect of preventing him from continuing in his presidency of the House of Deputies? As they honored the Dean, did they remember that less than twenty-four hours previously, he stood before the convention, lamenting the fact that as a result of the actions taken by Convention, he felt, after serving for two decades as the pastor of the mother church of the Diocese, like an outsider?

What happened at Convention? The other half of the resolution requesting ALPO was a decision to remove the Diocese from Province III of the Episcopal Church. Moreover, the diocesan budget has now taken funds previously earmarked for Province III, and designated them for the support of the Network. The Network, explained Bishop Duncan, would now function as our province. We believe the Diocese, in taking this action, may be in violation of a court order, since our lawsuit won for all parishes the right to disaffiliate from the Network. The Episcopal Church is made up of nine geographically-determined provinces.

Province III consists of the dioceses in the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The provincial system was created about a hundred years ago to assist the growing Episcopal Church to organize its work. Certain powers inhere to provincial synods, such as electing representatives to Executive Council. Importantly, each province has a court to which clergy found guilty of a charge within a member diocese may appeal. It is the intention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to eventually become part of a Province X, which would be constituted not on the basis of geography, but on ideology, specifically, what the members of the Network would describe as “theological orthodoxy.” Indeed, many opine that it is the Network’s not-too-hidden agenda that Province X would be ultimately recognized as a separate province not of the Episcopal Church, but of the Anglican Communion!

In taking the action to leave Province III, the bishop proffers two specious justifications. The first is that there is precedent, namely the withdrawal of the Diocese of Missouri from the province to which it originally belonged. What the bishop fails to mention is that Missouri left one province and joined another, geographically contiguous province, and, moreover, that the transfer was voted upon and approved by both houses of the General Convention. No mention was made at our diocesan convention about taking the matter of leaving Province III to General Convention, (since the Diocese does not understand itself to be responsible to that body) and we may be reasonably certain that if it were, the request would be summarily rejected! The second baseless and misleading justification for the action is that it is in accordance with the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, which states, in Article VII, that “no diocese shall be included in a Province without its consent.” The Chancellor of our Diocese would have us to believe that that means that consent is granted until such time as the diocese may choose to withdraw it. Had the Constitution been intended to refer only to the initial consent given at the time the Provinces were created, he maintains, the framers would have stipulated “at the time of admission.” What Mr. Devlin conveniently ignores, according to a knowledgeable canon lawyer, is that such clarifying language was not necessary, since at the time of the adoption of Article VII in 1901 the Provinces did not yet exist. The canon lawyer offers an analogy:

As with marriage, consent precedes union, and depends upon it. No one would suggest that the legal principle “no one shall be married without his or her "consent” means anything other than that consent is required for and prior to the initiation of the marriage, and once consent is given, and the marriage rite performed, it takes more than a mere change of mind or heart – or unwillingness to abide by the consent once given – formally to end the marriage.
Let us review the bidding: The diocesan convention, in one fell swoop, has rejected the duly elected presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church and has asked for someone else to take her place. The request is noteworthy since there is no provision for such a course of action either in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, or in the Anglican Consultative Council. Second, it has purported to withdraw from the duly established structure of the Episcopal Church as established by its constitution and canons and mandated by General Convention. But as remarkable as these events are, they pale before the claims made in the wake of them by the bishop. He maintains that these acts notwithstanding, the Diocese of Pittsburgh continues to be a diocese in good standing in the Episcopal Church, and that it is functioning within the parameters of its Constitution and Canons. To understand his claims, one must understand that the bishop has stated repeatedly that “there are two churches claiming to be the Episcopal Church.” He believes, moreover, that the Episcopal Church to which he ascribes is the one that “stands where the Episcopal Church has always stood.” For the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the other seven or eight dioceses requesting ALPO (and who have elevated the Windsor Report, a Lambeth Conference resolution and a primatial promulgation to the level as the eleventh through thirteenth Commandments) to disagree with the theology or polity of the Episcopal Church is certainly their prerogative. But for this group, some 8% of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church, and, incidentally, representing less than one fifth of the bishops who voted against Gene Robinson) to assert their moral and theological superiority over the remaining dioceses, is an act of almost unfathomable hubris.

There are many differing opinions among the members of the Episcopal Church, as there always have been. But there is only one Episcopal Church. It is the church whose General Convention approved the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, and it is the church whose House of Bishops elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as PB. These may be painful facts for some members of the church, but they remain the facts. The bishop’s assertions that the nature of alternative primatial oversight “will be the decision of the primates themselves,” and that such an interregnum will be in effect “until such time as the status of the majority of the Episcopal Church and the status of our [sic] Presiding Bishop shall finally be determined by the Communion” are misleading at best. One of the cardinal tenets of Anglicanism is that its provinces are autonomous. Archibald Tait, the Archbishop of Canterbury who convened the second Lambeth Conference, wrote in 1875: “Each church is naturally guided in the interpretation of its formularies by its recognized authorities . . . No branch of a church could interfere with the matters of any other . . . Each is considered qualified to regulate its own separate affairs, while all are united in the maintenance of one faith.” He adds “We are able by friendly intercourse to strengthen each other’s hands.” Bishop Duncan’s comment “The Episcopal Church has no Supreme Court” and that “its supreme court is the Holy Scriptures” is but another indication that the bishop is trying to redefine Anglicanism. Unless I missed something, the Anglican reformers, unlike their Calvinist cousins who fought under the banner of sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”) espoused a theology grounded in Scripture, tradition and reason.

Quo vadimus? Does anybody outside of Western Pennsylvania care about what Pittsburgh’s Convention hath wrought? I think so. In 2003, following the General Convention, a special convention of the Diocese introduced an amendment to its constitution (ratified by a second vote the following year) declaring that on those occasions when the Diocese disagrees with the national church’s canons, or when a General Convention resolution does not conform to theological orthodoxy as this diocese understands it, the local opinion shall prevail. Despite the irregularity, indeed the illegality of this action, no opinion or admonition was forthcoming from the office of the then Presiding Bishop. Our lawsuit, which sought to uphold the canons of the Episcopal Church, was met with a similar deafening silence. But, as the hymn reminds us, “new life, new hope awaits.” In a recent action, Chancellor David Booth Beers, on behalf of the new Presiding Bishop, has issued letters to two “traditionalist” dioceses, Quincy (Illinois) and Fort Worth, demanding that they change “language that can be read as cutting against an ‘unqualified accession’ to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.” The letter went on to say “Should your diocese decline to take that step, the Presiding Bishop will have to consider what sort of action she must take in order to bring your diocese into compliance.” It is entirely likely, in my opinion, that the Diocese of Pittsburgh, guilty of the same transgression, will receive a similar letter in due course.

Finally, how do we respond locally? First and foremost, we will continue, by the grace of God, to build up the Body of Christ in this place. We will worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, and we will continue to welcome all in the Name of Christ, especially those who find us a place of refuge during these troublous times. But it is also important to say what we will not do. At convention, a delegate suggested that the vacant district of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (the Diocese is divided into Districts 1 – 10, except that for some reason District 9 is currently defunct) be reconstituted, and that its new members be the so-called minority, i.e., non-Network congregations. This means that Calvary, under such a plan would leave District 7 and join District 9. In this way, reasoned the delegate, those loyal to the Episcopal Church and who recognize the primacy of Bishop Jefferts Schori could live in peace. The Convention defeated the motion, but remarkably, the bishop brought the matter up later in our deliberations and said that the Diocesan Council (which acts on behalf of the Diocese between conventions) might consider the matter. This idea was reiterated in a motion made at the end of the Convention on Saturday. Let me say why I think this is a very bad idea:

1. The plan would send the message that we approve what the Diocese has done and that we accept our “minority status” when in fact we represent a majority of the Episcopal Church.

2. Such an arrangement would make it appear that all of the so-called minority folk are to be found within the “borders” of District 9, when the truth is that every parish in the Diocese (even those whose clergy and lay deputies voted with the majority) has among its membership persons, sometimes a significant number of persons, who are not in favor of what has happened, and would prefer not to leave the structures of the Episcopal Church.

3. Such dialogue as exists in the Diocese would be cut off, since the ideological divisions of the Diocese would be rendered official by such actions, resulting, theoretically, in only like-minded people being exposed to each other.

4. But most important, such a plan would result in the Bantunization of the Diocese, creating a virtual ghetto for those who hold a minority point of view.

This last repercussion is especially troubling. When I listened to the plan being put forward, I thought of the decision of the Province of Sewanee (now Province IV in the Episcopal Church) in 1883 to create a “colored missionary district” in which all African Americans, regardless of the diocese in which they were physically resident, would be under a white suffragan bishop. This matter came before the General Convention of that year, and thanks to the House of Deputies, was defeated. The bishops, being exceeding wroth, then returned to their dioceses to institute at a local level what they were unable to accomplish nationally, and created “colored convocations.” Under this plan, all African American clergy and laypeople in dioceses throughout the South were forced to meet on their own, apart from the diocesan delegations. The last such convocation sat in Charleston in 1954! [For a complete discussion, see my book, Yet With a Steady Beat: The African American Struggle for Recognition in the Episcopal Church, available in the Calvary Bookstore.] The District 9 plan is no less insidious than the so-called “Sewanee Canon” which resulted in the creation of colored convocations. The only difference is that theological ideology would be used as a basis for segregation instead of race.

The events, not only of our recent convention, but those in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion over the past several years, have been as unsettling as they are unprecedented. We will continue to navigate in uncharted waters, it would appear, for some time to come. As we do so, I continue to be profoundly grateful to all of you for your prayers and support for the Rector and Vestry as we seek to be faithful to our Lord and to his Church. In times like these, I take comfort in the words of one of my favorite hymns (which, of course, is no longer in the Hymnal):

Forward! Be our watchword, steps and voices joined;
Seek the things before us, Not a look behind;
Burns the fiery pillar at our army’s head;
Who shall dream of shrinking, by our Captain led?
Forward through the desert, through the toil and fight,
Jordan flows before us; Zion beams with light.

[Hymn 561, The Hymnal 1940]

Saturday, November 18, 2006

San Joaquin: What Can We Do?

Faithful Episcopalians throughout the Episcopal Church have been wondering, "What can we do to support the Episcopalians in the diocese of San Joaquin?"

Some information has now been posted at Father Jake's site by a leader in the diocese; click here to read it. Andee Zetterbaum, a member of Remain Episcopal (the ViaMedia group in San Joaquin) has posted an appeal for: assistance in reaching out to loyal Episcopalians in San Joaquin, prayer, and financial support.

Here is the full text of this request from Remain Episcopal:

Several of you have asked how you can help those of us in Diocese of San Joaquin who want to remain in the Episcopal Church. As one of the leaders of Remain Episcopal, let me be very practical:

1. If you know anyone in this diocese who doesn't want to leave ECUSA, who is saddened or sickened by what is going on here--put them in touch with Remain Episcopal, or with me personally. One of our greatest problems has been that we have not been able to get a list of Episcopalians (or bruised and dropped out would-be Episcopalians) in these 13 counties, so that we can reach out, support and encourage them.

2. Pray. That kind of goes without saying, doesn't it? But pray for those who are leaving, that God may bless them in their new denomination; pray for all who are hurt and hurting; pray with thanksgiving for the approaching end of this dark time, and being set gloriously free to proclaim the Kingdom of our God of love.

3. Donate. Lots, if you can. A little if you can't. ECUSA may carry the bill for the legal battles over the property, but we're looking at everything involved in healing the injured and rebuilding and growing. The diocese is a 5 hour drive from one end to the other, 3 hours East to West, 50 widely-spread parishes in which there are likely to be small pockets of remaining people to be served. Just the cost of seeking them out, of advertising to tell what the Episcopal church is REALLY like and inviting others to join us, of bringing in supply clergy and training new lay leaders and raising up locally trained clergy... The handful of us who are willing to openly oppose Bp. Schofield, and are committed to building a thriving and healthy renewed Diocese of San Joaquin are definitely going to need your help! Remain Episcopal is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and you can reach us at Remain Episcopal, 2067 W. Alluvial, Fresno, CA 93711.

4. Pass this message on, to everyone you can think of who might be willing to help.

Yours in Christ,

Andee Zetterbaum

Find more information about loyal Episcopalians in San Joaquin at this site.

San Joaquin Announces Plans to Leave TEC

Over the past several days, the news has been zipping through the blogosphere that the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin may seek to disassociate itself from the Episcopal Church when the diocesan convention meets on December 1-2. The convention will be asked to consider constitutional amendments that would supposedly remove the diocese from the authority of the Episcopal Church and "place the Diocese of San Joaquin in an ideal position to be part of any ecclesiastical structure that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates might design," according to a statement posted on the diocese's website October 1. The actual proposed constitutional changes in the diocese are posted here. Analysis from the Episcopal News Service is available here.

In his letter to the diocese, Bishop Schofield casts the decision in apocalyptic terms which you can read at this link.

Look at what others have posted on this topic. Some of them have written at some length and more analytically. Please look particularly at:
If you want to see Bishop Schofield himself in his own words, view this video interview with Bishop Schofield.

A favorite charge of Bishop Schofield is the accusation that the Episcopal Church denies the uniqueness of Christ. This is poppycock – but it does not slow him down from levying that charge or the related charge that the Episcopal Church is undermining the authority of Scripture. We urge thoughtful Episcopalians to consider these works that have been published online: San Joaquin's actions promise to gather more attention, and faithful Episcopalians would do well to read this background information before the convention on December 1-2.

To ++Gomez on the Anglican Covenant

The Episcopal Majority sent the following letter on November 10 via FedEx to the Most Reverend Drexel Gomez (Archbishop of The West Indies) , who has been appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair the group to design an Anglican Covenant for the Anglican Communion. The Steering Committee determined that we would not simultaneously publish this as an "open letter," but would give the Archbishop a reasonable period of time in which to acknowledge receipt of our letter. Having received no acknowledgement from the Archbishop, we now publish the letter here to state some of our key concerns about the need for and content of an "Anglican covenant."

November 10, 2006

The Most Reverend Drexel Wellington Gomez
Archbishop of The West Indies

Dear Archbishop Gomez,

Greetings and peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ!

We are writing to you on behalf of The Episcopal Majority, a newly constituted organization representing what our former Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Most Reverend Frank Griswold, has aptly called the "diverse center" of the Episcopal Church. With some concern, we have noted the tenor and general direction of discussions on a possible "Anglican Covenant." We are writing at this time to appeal for a common reaffirmation of the de facto covenant that already binds our beloved Anglican Communion and indeed has done so since 1888, namely the Lambeth Quadrilateral.

Conceived and upheld over time as a basis for full communion and mutual recognition of ministries between Anglican churches and other Christian denominations, the Lambeth Quadrilateral was most recently reaffirmed as a common instrument of ecumenism by the Lambeth Conference of 1978. The Quadrilateral quite clearly affirms as the terms of full ecclesiastical union acceptance of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being "the rule and ultimate standard of faith," the Nicene Creed as "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith," the Dominical Sacraments and the Historic Episcopate, "locally adapted…to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church." Surely the same standards for ecclesiastical unity must apply within the Anglican Communion as well, rendering discussions of any additional standards for full membership in fact a revision of the Quadrilateral itself. This has clear and significant implications for the life of the Anglican Communion, for our very polity and for the ecumenical relations of the various Anglican churches with other Christian communities.

If what has for more than a century been the common Anglican vision of ecclesiastical unity is to be revised, it seems to us the starting point can only be, indeed must be, the Lambeth Quadrilateral itself. And if the Quadrilateral requires revision – something of which we are by no means convinced – it is incumbent upon any proponents of revision to articulate clear, broadly applicable theological and ecclesiological reasons why this revision appears necessary. Is the Nicene Creed, for example, no longer the sufficient statement of the Christian faith? Are selected biblical interpretations above and beyond the Creeds now to be canonized in addition to the Holy Scriptures? These questions beg a clear and direct answer grounded in sound theology, rather than politics.

Much is at stake in terms of Anglican polity and ecumenical relations – not least more than a century of shared Anglican standards for the unity to which our Lord calls us. In a spirit of reconciliation and love for our sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion, we respectfully submit that the Lambeth Quadrilateral must remain the standard for ecclesiastical unity and the firm foundation for any further discussions of Anglican interdependence.

Very truly yours in Christ,

The Rev. William R. Coats & The Rev. Christopher Worthley (for The Episcopal Majority)

On ++Gomez's Role in the Anglican Covenant

The Episcopal Majority sent the following letter on November 9 via FedEx to the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding the role of Archbishop Drexel Gomez to serve as chairman of the Covenant Design Group for the Anglican Communion. The Steering Committee determined that we would not simultaneously publish this as an "open letter," but would give the Archbishop a reasonable period of time in which to acknowledge receipt of our letter. Having received no acknowledgement from Archbishop Williams, we now publish the letter here as our position on Archbishop Gomez's role in designing an Anglican Covenant.

November 9, 2006

The Most Reverend Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury

Dear Archbishop Williams,

We, the Steering Committee of the Episcopal Majority, write to urge you to ask the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies to step down as chairman of the Covenant Design Group, which has been assigned the task of creating a Covenant for the entire Anglican Communion.

It is our view that a chair of any important Anglican committee should be impartial, fair minded, neutral and without any preconceived views about what should be accomplished. Archbishop Gomez fails in each of these requirements.

The Archbishop, as a member of the Global South Steering Committee, was a signatory to the Kigali Communiqué. The communiqué announced, among other things, its close alliance with the Anglican Network of churches in America, a group dedicated to isolating or even overthrowing the American Episcopal Church. The communiqué announced that there are a number of groups within the Anglican Communion who have strenuously objected to our new Presiding Bishop. Indeed, many of those who object to the conception of Alternative Primatial Oversight have also objected to the selection and installation of Archbishop Jefferts Schori.

Archbishop Gomez has also openly expressed his view that a new Anglican Covenant must include the prohibition of full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our Church.

The Archbishop has recently criticized the ruling of your Panel of Reference’s decision in matters involving the Diocese of New Westminster. The panel did not meet his ideological criteria for church life in Canada.

The Archbishop is also one of four non-U.S. bishops, who are slated in November to meet with the American bishops, who are seeking some form of foreign oversight in American church affairs. In each case, Archbishop Gomez does not show himself to be the unbiased chair that is needed in these trying times.

Yours in Christ,

The Episcopal Majority Steering Committee:

The Rev. William R. Coats
Ms. Adrienne Fly
The Rev. David Fly
Ms. Lisa Fox
The Rev. Mark Harris
Ms. Judy Mathews
Mr Robert Smith, Esq.
The Rev. Richard Tombaugh
The Rev. Tom Woodward

Regarding Alternative Primatial Oversight

The Episcopal Majority sent the following letter on November 9 via FedEx to the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding the handful of bishops who have requested "alternative primatial oversight" (or a commissary). The Steering Committee determined that we would not simultaneously publish this as an "open letter," but would give the Archbishop a reasonable period of time in which to acknowledge receipt of our letter. Having received no acknowledgement from the Archbishop, we now publish the letter here as our position on the provision of "alternative primatial oversight."

November 9, 2006

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury

Dear Archbishop Williams,

You will soon receive - or may have already received - a request from a relatively small group of bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States that you appoint a commissary (or Alternative Primatial Oversight) for disaffected dioceses in this country. Apparently, they believe that such an action would in some manner remove these dioceses and bishops from the actions of General Convention and the leadership of the Presiding Bishop and, instead, give them a tie to your office or place themselves under your authority.

We believe the requests to be illegal. Our Constitution and Canons do not allow for overseas oversight or alternative jurisdictional authority over any diocese in this country. The question of whether the Church of England could assign commissaries to function in America was settled back in 1789.

In addition, many of these same bishops, now allied with a number of foreign bishops, will request that you affirm the existence of an alternative ecclesiastical jurisdiction in America. Such a jurisdiction, at least in outline, now exists. Clearly the bishops seek from you legitimation for these blatantly secessionist activities. To grant their request would constitute a reward for these actions and legitimate the break-up of the Church.

We, the Steering Committee of The Episcopal Majority, write to urge you to refuse these requests.

We believe these requests are motivated by the longstanding wish of a small number of American bishops to expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion. We find the actions of these bishops to be deceitful, disruptive and harmful and urge you to reject their requests.

Another course has always been open to these bishops and others of a like mind: they could simply leave the Episcopal Church. Such a departure falls fully within the American religious tradition. Ordinarily, conscience has dictated such separations in the past and these separations have been accomplished with integrity. We urge you to encourage this course of action upon them, as we have done. It is certainly a more honorable course than remaining in the Church and continuing to cause bitterness and rancor.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. William R. Coats
Ms. Lisa Fox
The Rev. David Fly
Ms. Judy Matthews
The Rev. Richard Tombaugh
Ms. Adrienne Fly
The Rev. Mark Harris
Mr Robert Smith, Esq
The Rev. Tom Woodward


Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Absolutism and its Limits (the Rev. William R. Coats)

"Only let not men be hasty in calling every disliked opinion by the name of heresy, and when they have resolved that they will call it so, let them use the erring person like a brother, not beat him like a dog or convince him with a gibbet or vex him out of his understanding and persuasions.
"And the experience which Christendom hath had in this last age is argument enough that toleration of differing opinions is so far from disturbing the public peace or destroying the interest of princes and commonwealths, that it does advantage to the public. It secures peace because there is not so much the pretence of religion left to such persons to contend for it, being already indulged to them."
-- Jeremy Taylor, "A Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying"

All creatures are bounded by death. Because human existence is finite, it is marked by various forms of anxiety. All people, in addition, are set within a set of social and political parameters. The socio-political environment in America has always been turbulent. Our vaunted "American Way of Life" is constantly hounded by economic dislocation [Americans now change jobs on average five times in adulthood] and by constantly shifting social mores. The soil of freedom is double: one can spread one’s wings and soar in many directions; one can also fall dramatically.

One of the functions of religion is to bring some order, clarity and consolation into lives marked by personal insecurity and social flux. It is why religion has been and is successful in America.

Characteristically, American religion has met the challenge of instability with absolutist claims. Churches make final and unassailable claims about their authority - Scripture or a hierarchical church - as well as about human status before God and about necessary moral behavior. Most American churches from the time of the Great Awakening to our current "era of evangelicalism" have long taken on the characteristic of absolutist religion.

In a rapidly changing social and moral climate, absolutist religions characteristically bolster their case by a vivid contrast: Absolute truth (about authority, meaning and behavior) versus relativism. Thus, in the current struggle within the Episcopal Church the vocabulary of the absolutists consists of such phrases as: "The faith once delivered to the Saints," "The deposit of faith," "The inerrancy of Scripture," "The absolute truth of the Gospel," "The absolute authority of Scripture," or "The truth of tradition." The absolutists characterize their opponents as "heretical," "apostate," "schismatic," "preaching another gospel," or "practicing anything goes."

A sign of relativism, in their eyes, would be the presence in the Episcopal Church of the "heresy" of holding a more open reading of certain biblical passages concerning homosexuality and of tolerating homosexuality behavior, Not only is this opinion and this practice wrong, but its very existence in the church infects the whole. It must somehow be "rooted out." (The Rt. Rev. Peter Akinola). In the absolutists’ world, it is truth or relativism – all or nothing.

Is this true? Is relativism the opposite of absolute truth? Is relativism a kind of amoral wasteland in which anything goes? Is it true that only an absolutist religion can save us from chaos? As Leo Sandon of the Tallahassee Democrat has argued on our website, the opposite of absolute truth need not be relativism. It can be any form of truth short of absolute truth. Partial truth may not be absolute, but it may have an authority and it is not equivalent to permissiveness or "anything goes."

I argue that the key to understanding the long tradition of Anglican comprehensiveness – the so-called big tent of the Anglican church – lies in an understanding of the usefulness of partial truth.

First, it should be noted that Anglicanism has long had trouble with absolutist brands of Christianity. The vaunted tolerance of Elizabeth I was unsatisfactory for a large number of Puritans. The Anglican church in the late 18th century could not contain the driven enthusiasm of the Wesleyans. In the 19th century many Anglo-Catholics worried about whether the English church contained the means of salvation and subsequently left for Roman Catholicism. In late 19th-century America, the Episcopal Church lost a small number of persons who furiously objected to a dilution in the church’s Protestant tradition. At present, Anglicanism is being torn apart by radical evangelicals who vehemently oppose certain more moderate cultural positions found in the American church.

Second, historically, much of Anglican tolerance has been driven by the need in England to remain a national church, and hence a comprehensive body. No such national requirement has been necessary in America, yet the American church took on the traditional mantle of tolerance and comprehensiveness. What has been needed for some time is a rationale for this openness and comprehensiveness.

That rationale lies in two places: the Reformation doctrine of grace and the American experience of democracy.

The Reformation doctrine of grace, in which human beings were to be justified not by their works but by the overwhelming mercy and grace of God revealed in the Cross of Jesus Christ, was more than a simple mechanism for salvation. The super abundance of grace was linked to the ubiquitousness of sin. The fallenness of human beings extends to all aspects of their earthly existence. Grace is the astonishing mercy and love of God which comes to human beings in all aspects of their fallen life. This can be related specifically to the human search for and the explication of truth. Human fallenness or finitude means that all human positions regarding the formulation and explication of truth have a double possibility; they are at once inevitably given to egoism, pretension and self-interest and at the same time blessed with the possibility, in a limited fashion, of transcending these conditions. Thus all claims about authority, scripture and ethics are inevitably tainted with aspects of pretension and arrogance and can never be allowed to be accepted as absolute truth. My truth can never become the truth. All truth on this reading is necessarily a partial truth. Because of the presence of grace, truth can be approximated and thus possess a limited authority, but it can be no more than this. Therefore the doctrine of grace mandates modesty in all claims, a modesty now belied by the absolutists among us. St. Paul, recall, had said we all "see in a mirror dimly." Only later will we "know as we now are known."

Democracy is not a biblical concept, though by now few would deny its efficacy and legitimacy as a political construct. The conciliar form of polity in our church is in fact a form of democracy. Immediately after the Revolution, the Episcopal Church created a conciliar form of polity in large measure as a response to the democratic ethos of the nation. For more than 200 years the American experience of democracy has had an enormous impact on our church. American democracy is not merely a form of popular rule; it is a structured set of institutions designed to thwart power. If a particular balance in the political arena corrals or limits the exercise of power, American democracy at the bottom has another effect. Without a commanding rule from the top, American politics is characterized by a mish mash of contending groups, interests and individuals. Apart from a tilt toward the power of money, the political and social arenas are a hodgepodge of competing units each seeking a particular end for themselves. For decisions to be made, accommodation and compromise are irreplaceable aspects of political and social life. Indeed, the American experience of compromise exists at every level of national life and in every institution – including the church. As a result, rarely is any final, exact or exclusive truth or justice established both in state and church. We have merely instances of proximate justice or, in other words, partial truth. That is also why the American experience of openness has demanded a wide tolerance of views and behaviors. It is why the church has been open and tolerant as well. It is hard to see, as an American, how it could be otherwise. This accounts, therefore, for own national ecclesiastical comprehensiveness.

Of course, from time to time moral behavior occurs in American society that is beneath what the churches uphold as proper. This is usually met with howls of indignation from the churches. Indeed, from the inception of the nation, elements of the church would blame other elements for either inducing or fostering such behaviors which the majority of the church found repugnant. The claim of relativism or permissiveness is as old as the nation. But there is no connection between moral laxity and a church which is open and tolerant. No church blesses gross immorality. The political and social soil of freedom means over time moral boundaries will be crossed. It is a mistake to believe that only an absolutist position can stem the tide of immorality or that partial truths countenance and advance these transgressions.

It is true that certain political configurations can and do lead to such harm that only a firm and resolute stand will suffice. One cannot face slavery, racism, fascism, communism or other forms of political and social tyranny with half measures. Upholding partial truth in the fluid and changing cultural realm does not mean blindness in the face of oppression in any arena. Such excursions into resolute and uncompromising political actions, however, are not a blue-plate for all manner of social or moral disputes. Here the notion of partial truth remains especially helpful.
I argue for the usefulness of partial truths in adjudicating the tensions often found in church and social life. In the church this means a certain latitude and toleration. In the American church compromise has become a dirty word to the absolutists. I hold it to be a gracious way of respecting others. It also means a church of modesty, in which claims are put forward with a keen knowledge of their limits. I argue therefore that comprehensiveness is a necessary mark of the true Anglicanism and that the absolutist positions now before us belie both our Reformation and democratic traditions. To refashion this church along absolutist lines would be forever to change Anglicanism.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bishop Bruno's Address

The Living Church today posted this article about Bishop Bruno's keynote address at The Episcopal Majority's national gathering. It's very brief, but has some key points.

We are currently working to get the full audio version of Bishop Bruno's address on our website.

Threatened Identity

Susan Russell has posted a fine essay by the Right Reverend Sergio Carranza, retired Bishop of Mexico, titled "Threatened Identity." It is is a clear and succinct statement of what many Episcopalians have been trying to say as we reassert the core of our Anglican identity.

Affirming Catholicism

One outcome of The Episcopal Majority's meeting in Washington last week was a consensus that we should enrich the links we provide, including the wide range of organizations whose goals and ethos are compatible with ours. One of our supporters today reminded us of the work of Affirming Catholicism.

Their core beliefs, according to their website are:

  • That, in tumultuous times in the world echoed in the church, God is continually speaking and calling us deeper into the paschal mystery as together we die and rise with Christ and serve him in each other and all we meet.
  • That we must stand for a climate in the church of gentle strength and mutual respect for all God’s people and creation.
  • That among the gifts of the catholic tradition is a deep and abiding wisdom about the mystery of intimacy with God and that the world cries out in holy longing for that intimacy.
  • That the Baptismal Covenant, the rule of the life of the church, requires us to respect all persons. We understand that respect to mean that all ministries within the church are open to all the baptised and that the call to leadership within the assembly is dependant on baptism and the recognition of particular gifts for ministry, not on gender or sexual orientation.

Further information about the organization is available at the Affirming Catholicism website.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Statement of Purpose

The following "statement of purpose" was adopted by the Steering Committee meeting on Saturday.

The Statement of Purpose of The Episcopal Majority
approved on November 4, 2006 at St. Columba's Episcopal Church
Washington, DC

Confident in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we affirm the traditions of the Episcopal Church by:

1. Extending a radical welcome to all persons.

2. Respecting differences of opinion among members.

3. Advocating the integrity of the Episcopal Church as part of the Anglican Communion and working with like-minded Anglicans throughout the world, and

4. Joining others supporting individuals and local congregations struggling to remain faithful in the Episcopal Church.

Observations and Meditations

Observations and Meditations from “Remaining Faithful,”
the First National Gathering of The Episcopal Majority
(Martha K. Baker)

[Editor's note: Martha K. Baker is a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis, where she has many roles and responsibilities. She is also a frequent contributor to Episcopal Life. The Episcopal Majority is asking many participants in the Nov. 3-4 meetings to submit their observations and reflections.]

We gathered in the sunny nave of St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Friday, November 3. Old friends hugged. Newbies stared at clavicles to see who was who among the unknowns, duly labeled as to name and diocese. Some wore collars; some did not (David+ Fly wore a fly in his lapel). Some names came with crosses in front, some with crosses in back, some loudly and proudly without crosses to bear. (For those who may not know, Verna Dozier RIP said, and I paraphrase, “I wouldn’t want to be demoted from the laity to be a bishop.”) Some bishops (+Gene Robinson) wore purple (the reddish version and the bluish); some (+Joe Morris Doss) didn’t. We were tall (+Jon Bruno, Adrienne Anderson Fly, and Bill+ Coats) and some were short (+Gene and David+ and Martha). Some were moderate; some were ultraliberal. All were smiling, happy to be together.

Representatives of the media were also there – not only moderates from Episcopal Life and Episcopal News Service, but also a representative of The Living Church. Acronyms and alphabets were there, flying about like monkeys: APO, AAC, ACN or NACDP, and IRD; whispered confabulations translated for those not in the total-know.

After corralling the gabbing faithful, David Fly opened the meeting at 1:20, giving credit where it was due. In particular, he thanked Jane Cosby, who was at the meeting of the former college chaplains, who had reunited at General Convention 2006. (David spoke about her role in his opening remarks, available here.) They’d met with heavy hearts and ire after the passage of B033, and she’d said to them, simply and firmly, “What are you going to do about it?” and “What do you have to lose?” Gauntlet words.

David talked about what had happened over four short months to develop a website (thank you, Lisa Fox and Jeffrey Simbeck) and to develop leaders, organizers and writers (including David, Bill Coats, Judy Wright Mathews, Richard+ Tombaugh, etc.). Four months later, some 150 people from 47 dioceses gathered in the blonde-wood sanctuary of St. Columba’s a few short miles and merely hours away from the National Cathedral, where – the next day – the Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori was to be installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. We convened there to support her as much as to take any specific action. David mentioned that he and Adrienne spoke with Bishop Katharine that morning at the hotel, and she had spoken highly of the meeting of The Episcopal Majority, although she was unable to attend because she had rehearsals all afternoon.

After David’s remarks and those of a few others, we immediately broke into workshops, introduced by Dick Tombaugh, because the keynote speaker, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, was driving around D.C., hunting for St. Columba’s. [His hotel concierge, hearing he needed to get to St. Columba's on Albemarle, sent him off to the town of Albemarle, Maryland!] The five workshops – along with their leaders and topics – are listed on The Episcopal Majority's website. Special thanks go to Sally Johnson, chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies, who assisted David Booth Beers in the "Legal Issues" workshop.

Our workshops were interrupted by the arrival of Bishop Bruno – a force to be reckoned with. The Rev. Canon Mark Harris introduced Bishop Bruno briefly and let the bishop speak for himself, which he did embracingly, engagingly, energetically, and earnestly. He reminisced about the time in his priestly life when he didn’t think women should be priests; that lasted, he said, until he was compassionately pastored by one (praise Jesus!). He spoke about the recent profile of him in the Los Angeles Times. He spoke about the lawsuits he’s pursuing in his diocese. He spoke about his unconditional support of +Gene Robinson and how he, Bruno, as a divorced heterosexual has more to answer for as a bishop than Gene Robinson does as a homosexual. He made us laugh and cheer and care.

We returned to our workshops and 40 minutes later, reporters from each group filled-in the larger group on our learnings and leanings.

The communications session, which I joined, included, among others, the Rev. Terry Martin of Father Jake Stops the World; Sarah Dylan Breuer, who runs the award-winning SarahLaughed blog; Dan+ Burke, retired priest in the Diocese of Rhode Island; and Louise Brooks, media consultant to All Saints-Pasadena and the producer of Voices of Witness, a DVD on the witness of homosexual Episcopalians. During the discussion, I kept thinking about how I’d thought I knew what was going on in the national church and the Anglican Communion, but that I didn’t know Shinola from apple butter and had boo-gobs to learn, Oh! fabulous day!

Our conversation in the communications group ranged from new-fangled media (blogs and websites) and old-fashioned media (newspapers and television) to the name of the group, to ways to identify the group as it gains a reputation. We raised the need for discipline and defined it as “one spokesperson, one message, and one tone.”

St. Columba’s, under the gracious hand of the Rev. Drew Bunting, Associate Rector, hosted a coffee break of veggie chips, soft drinks, and cookies (surely 250 calories each, with enough trans and sat fats to kill a cow, but yummy).

After reports from the workshops and before the day’s concluding remarks, David Fly conducted the raffle drawing for two tickets to the next day’s installation of Bishop Jefferts Schori. One ticket had been donated by Lisa Fox (force behind The Episcopal Majority's blog), who had received a ticket in the nationwide "lottery" but been prohibited from traveling to Washington. The tickets were raffled off, with proceeds of the raffle going to Episcopal Relief & Development, in honor of Bishop Jefferts Schori's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. Much joy arose from the winners. There was also a call for attendees from “network” dioceses, especially those whose bishop has called for Alternate Primatial Oversight, to meet each other for commiseration, and an offer from someone in an abiding diocese to join them in solidarity.

We adjourned around 6:00 p.m. with an invitation to a hospitality room at the Omni Shoreham. John and I, exhausted by the trip and exhilarated by the meeting, turned out the lights at 10 EST, after a brief and outstandingly stupid discussion about what time our bodies thought it was (Central Daylight-saving Time from the week before, CST from that morning, or EST in the evening) and if it was okay to turn off the lights at 10, a quite meaningless number, really.

The next morning, Nov. 4. A vignette: At breakfast at the Holiday Inn Georgetown, my husband, John Clifford, and I were surrounded by female priests. To a woman, each had a grin on her face that was the tiniest indication of the golden joy that seemed to infuse and radiate from each priest as she moved from the buffet to her table. Hugs all around. A priest at one table visited a priest at a clerical women's gathering in the back room. The first woman silently proffered a slip of white paper, a ticket to the installation, to another woman; the second priest, d’un certain age, jumped up and down as if on a holy pogo stick – that’s how excited she was to be going.

We assembled again at St. Columba’s at 8:30 for an open meeting of the Steering Committee. There were about a dozen of us, as so many were already standing in line for admittance to Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, where +Katharine's investiture was to be held.

The tear sheets from the workshops held center place as we talked about action that could be taken from the discussions. Bill Coats, in particular, met every suggestion with an emphatic and exhortatory, “Great idea. Are you going to do it?” He was particularly interested in someone’s taking on the research of all the lawsuits currently being levied by dioceses against parishes seeking alternate primatial oversight – a project that the has not been undertaken by staff at the Episcopal Church headquarters. Terri Jo Barron of the Diocese of Florida volunteered to help with that research.

Ron Haynes expressed eloquently what the meeting meant, and Eric Scharf suggested we take advantage of their being a pressroom at the Cathedral to draft a press release about our meeting. (I was dragooned, er, drafted to help write same, toute de suite and it was published here.) George+ Swanson encouraged us to be careful with wording – that is, to avoid “splitting” language, labeling “them” and “us,” or referring to our adversaries within the church as renegades or schismatics [Coats’ plainly descriptive words].

By 10 a.m., except for some mingling, the morning – and last – session of the first national gathering of The Episcopal Majority was over. We dutifully stacked chairs and tossed coffee cups (again, thanks to St. Columba’s mighty hospitality), mindful that the good fairies do not appear magically after a church meeting to clean up.

John and I wandered around the Mall for an hour or so, found a group of Haida dancers in their button blankets dancing at the Indian Museum, and took the Metro back to the airport. We were home in St. Louis and in bed by 10:00 p.m., but we didn’t sleep. We were too excited. We rehearsed the workshops, we reviewed the meetings, we revisited all the people, known and unknown, we’d met, and we re-outlined what we’d learned. In essence, the sous text to our after-lights-out discussion was that we were terribly glad to have been in Washington, D.C., at that meeting, at that time in our beloved church’s history.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Episcopal Majority Proclaims Support for Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori

Press Release
November 4, 2006

The Episcopal Majority held its first national meeting on the weekend the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop -- and the first female -- of the Episcopal Church of the United States. "We chose to meet at this time to show our unconditional support for the new Presiding Bishop," said the Rev. David K. Fly of the Diocese of Missouri. He was elected president and spokesperson for the group.

Episcopalians from 47 dioceses met to adopt a resolution of purpose: to embolden and encourage all the faithful of the Church. Fly said, "The organization celebrates the vitality of the Episcopal Church we love." Workshops considered ways The Episcopal Majority strengthens advocacy and provides opportunities for expressions of support to the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Media Coverage: ENS

While I am still working to collect information and quotes, those professionals at the Episcopal News Service have already posted a story on today's meeting of The Episcopal Majority. Click here to read the story.

It's a fine story that will give you some flavor of the meeting … while I labor slowly to capture other accounts and reflections. So go read Pat McCaughan's story at ENS.

Waging Reconciliation

This afternoon, Dr. Christopher Wilkins (Facilitator of Via Media USA) led the workshop, "Waging Reconciliation," at the national gathering of The Episcopal Majority. Here are his opening remarks from that session.

Waging Reconciliation
A Workshop on Improving the Health of The Episcopal Church
at the Parochial, Diocesan, and Provincial (National) Levels
Christopher Wilkins, Ph.D.

“Waging Reconciliation.” This very title, for whose selection I was not responsible but for whose delivery it appears I shall be held accountable, captures the problem at the heart of how the Episcopal Church (TEC) – that is, you, me, all of us, and those Episcopalians who are not in this room – acts in response to what has become an endemic conflict at the heart of its mission and ministry in the many countries in which it works.

Working on all six inhabited continents, and occasionally ministering (I am told) even to the scientists in Antarctica, the Episcopal Church truly is an international institution, most of whose members live and work in the United States. Their – that is, our – concerns are global, and acted-out locally. Many Episcopalians have the ability to be in a wide range of localities, ministering from Newark to South Africa, from San Diego to Uganda, from Europe to Venezuela, Hawai’i, and beyond. And, yes, we work in Columbus and Minneapolis, on Long Island and Puget Sound – and even in South Carolina, Springfield, Pittsburgh, and the valley of the Rio Grande. Even there.

But we are not alone in doing the work of Christ in any of these places, even if at times the company we must keep is unpleasant or has become displeased. In a country renowned for religious tolerance – indeed, for tolerating almost any religion but the considered absence of a religion – we do our work amidst a wide range of religious traditions and amidst an almost equally varied set of Christian denominations and post-denominational expressions.

For myself, I don’t know which is the more challenging to Christians – the presence of other religions, or the presence of other ways of being a part of their – that is, our – religion. At some point, when I think on these lines, I remember that this is the wrong question. The right question, for me and perhaps for you, is “what does my God [capital “G”] want me, and those in my community, to do?” That is, “to what ministries are we called at the present time?”

In the midst of religious plurality lie the seeds of conflict, much as the seeds of each desert plant lie beneath the hard-baked and sand-blown soil, and much as the seeds of each desert flood lie not only in the clouds that bring rain, but in the soil that cannot absorb such rain as quickly as it can fall. The ability we have to enter into conflict about religion and within our own religion is never far away, and not easily wished away, despite our faithful – and, I would say, necessary – desire as Christians that such conflicts disappear from among us. No, that’s not quite right. Our commitment as Christians is to eschew conflicts other than those to which God has called us, and not we ourselves, either by design or inaction, or – as we must say as post-lapsarians, i.e., as the kinds of beings that we, once guiltless creatures of the womb and before that even more innocent apes, have evolved into) – through our natural tendencies.

But we are here to talk about “Waging Reconciliation,” even though in English “to wage” means “to fight” or “to struggle” or “to conduct conflictingly” – that is, if it does not mean “to earn by labor.” Are we meant – or do we mean – to wage reconciliation as though we were marching, soldiers all, to war? A war not of our choosing? Or do we speak with some irony, meaning to wade (yes, I said “wade”) into situations of conflict but not to engage them conflictingly? It may be that our task is to act to reconcile, but to do so mindful that many sources of conflict that affect us are outside of our control, and will see any attempts we make to bring peace as further acts of depraved rebellion and, though we shudder to realize that they think this way, as a kind of warfare itself.

Where we seek a peace that strikes those most opposed to us as craven capitulation to the forces of doubt, ambiguity, and compromise, it appears difficult to seek it (peace, that is) without in some sense provoking or exacerbating conflict. That American Christianity – and our little high-toned corner of it, to boot – should find itself once again riven over who is a true believer and what should be done with those who are not is itself tragic, if not crazy-making. Our role as Episcopalians appears to be to have to bear, once again, prophetic witness against it. If this is so, and I cannot see how it could be not so, our task becomes to manage, not avoid, conflict, and at the very least never to make our beds in a dry riverbed or floodplain, lest we manage the conflict so badly that it comes upon us as a desert flood, which – again, I am told – is the easiest way to die in such terrain.

So, with your indulgence, I should like to modify the workshop’s title slightly, to: “Waging Reconciliation?” [question mark]. As this title comes to us as a question, we can discern how better to ask it, and what kinds of answers we need.

As facilitator of Via Media USA, I represent an alliance founded in 2004 to help keep the Episcopal Church as the American expression – and we mean the way of being “American” that obtains from Nome to Lima – of Anglican tradition. Gathering with The Episcopal Majority, we share many of the same goals. What we need to do now is to develop strategies for action that can be turned into priorities for The Episcopal Majority, and, if you like, for VMUSA and anyone else who wishes to join in. Notes are being taken, and there will be a quiz later.

First, we should discern what works. What works? We have found that reconciliation, like spiritual and congregational growth, begins at home. The stronger a spiritual community we form as the identified continuing Episcopalians in our dioceses dominated by the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), the sooner we break emotionally with those who have chosen to reject us and all too often to act abusively towards us and TEC, and the sooner we move into a place of action and not re-action, the easier it is not only to seek help from the Episcopal Church and do God’s work through it, but also to realize that we are, in our own small ways, already the continuing Episcopal Church in our dioceses. Eventually, attorneys are going to have to do what attorneys do – those now listening to David Booth Beers can fill us all in later on those points – and need good information in order to act appropriately. We should provide it, or at least see that it is provided. While that part of the task goes on, the other one – that of being and building up the church – is still ours, and if we don’t do it, who will?

So, first, find a place to heal, and heal, both ourselves and others. This requires some of the things we in VMUSA and others have been doing, including parochial and diocesan forums on this whole matter, touching specifically on human sexuality, biblical and ecclesial authority, church structure, theologies of human experience (which includes just about every kind of theology), and Christian mission. It includes parish-to-parish contacts on shared ministries, replacement diocesan newsletters and websites for continuing Episcopalians, action at diocesan conventions regarding resolutions and budget priorities, and the like. Identified needs not yet met include the care and feeding of continuing Episcopal clergy – this is key, and in no place is it as it needs to be – church-wide efforts at increasing theological and biblical competence as well as the number of well-informed parishioners, increasing the mission-based ties among parishes, particularly those in ACN-dominated dioceses, and financial support for the staff and programming needed to make these things effective. A network – small “n” – of support for those things parishes and clergy cannot do for themselves is what we need – we need functional dioceses, integrated with their provincial and national bodies as and where appropriate.

Second, recognize what the situation actually is. As I see it, 8-9% of the Episcopal Church wishes to be in some other church. This group is concentrated in certain dioceses and key parishes around the church – and, even in their majority dioceses, they are not everywhere and all-dominant. Not everything they do is destructive, but most of it is inseparable from the ACN’s ideology and praxes as it struggles for dominance over the lives of Episcopalians and other Anglicans. Key to ACN work is isolating those under their purview from anyone not considered “orthodox” (small “o”) and denigrating paths of faith and Christian life distinct from their own. Many of the ACN clergy have been promised that if they follow their leaders, goodies like bishops’ mitres and pews and coffers overflowing will follow. So they follow, and we watch, disappointed and in frustration.

A somewhat larger percentage of this church is uncertain about the church’s presentation of the Gospel and faith relating to gay/lesbian persons and human sexuality, but has no intention of leaving TEC or supporting those who do. Those in this group are at varying stages of comprehension and engagement with the ACN-driven dynamics at each level of the church. Most Episcopalians would like to see an end to conflict – this one and the many others plaguing our world. This is one reason why those who can name their price have an advantage over those of us who seem to have endless energy to spend not naming one of our own, in a fervent, but not successful, desire to will conflict out of existence simply through the sincerity of faith and the faithfulness to ministry.

The Episcopal Church has done a good, but not perfect, job over the past few years of clarifying its mission and moving further into the ministries to which it is called. As it has done so, that segment of the church most in disagreement has continued to move further and further away from the rest of us. The church must find some way to solve the problems that this raises. This solution, I believe, should be one around which continuing Episcopalians can unite amidst the things that distinguish them from each other, and through which they can make clear to the world their Christian vision.

How may we best serve God in the midst of a struggle over whether we will continue as a united, or a divided, Episcopal Church? If we cannot prevent further division of this church, we must find ways for those of us who continue as Episcopalians to do our work in this world and this church as God would have us do. As it is, we appear to be stumbling forward without a plan. This does not bode well for us.

Which brings us to our third task: decide what to do. This is not as easy as it looks.

Why? TEC cannot force those who wish the church were radically different from what it now is to remain a part of it. This group has coalesced into the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), and its most radical dioceses are planning to withdraw formally from the Episcopal Church, whether or not the church’s law actually allows this. Because of the choices the ACN has made, and the international morass into which it has thrown Anglicanism by the pitch and fervor of its dissent, it has become a stumbling block to the entire Episcopal Church as well as to the Anglican Communion. In my opinion, TEC also cannot continue to allow this group continued free rein to do as it wishes, or to continue to set the conditions under which it will remain with the church.

As presently constituted, the ACN constitutes a church-within-a-church, unwilling to participate fully in TEC, and ready to break with TEC when conditions are most opportune for it. Its presence and actions drain the spiritual, emotional and financial resources of the church, which appears to be part of the ACN's strategy going forward.

So we ask: should TEC now do what it can to enable a timely, clear and lasting decision on this matter, and find in doing so a further source of its own unity and definition?

How to imagine the goal is important, and leads to many difficult questions. Should the goal be to make things easy for dissidents, or be as supportive as possible of continuing Episcopalians? Should it aim at minimizing the numbers of those who leave, or minimizing the time it takes them to do so? Is there a comprehensive “middle way” in all of this that would allow the church to protect its unity and integrity while placing due burdens on those who diminish it in God’s name?

The various ways forward can be reduced to five. Each of the five choices has its pros and cons. Any of them could help shape the church for the future. However, some of them are not compatible with the others, which means that choices – difficult choices – must be made.

The five options presented below range from maximal care for dissidents who reject much of what TEC is doing to maximal protection of the unity and integrity of TEC against the threat these dissidents pose. Some of the choices have, in one or more places, been chosen or been set forth as ideals. One – the fifth – has not, at least not yet. The choices are:

  1. Just Give In (The “Province X” Solution): Allow ACN dioceses and parishes to continue to form a separate province in TEC, or a competing new province of the Anglican Communion in North America. This is what the ACN-member dioceses' statements seeking ALPO, an Anglican Commissar (no, really), nullification rights over General Convention, and/or inclusion in a new “Province X” based on their definition of various matters of church theology and discipline desire. It involves re-organizing the church along lines of theological, and not geographical, distinction.

  2. “Just Let Us Go": Do what the Diocese of Dallas did with respect to Christ Church, Plano (Texas), and what was proposed by the Task Force in the Diocese of the Rio Grande: allow parishes that do not want to remain Episcopal to leave with their assets with limited liability or debt to TEC under whatever arrangements seem best to them. This model would allow ACN clergy and parishes to remain involved with TEC if they believed that doing so was part of their mission.

  3. “Pay for Your Ticket When You Leave": Arrange for dissenting parishes to purchase their property from TEC as fair-market value. The Diocese of Kansas permitted this solution with respect to a parish in Overland Park (Kansas), and it is being done elsewhere. This model would allow parishes that do not want to remain Episcopal to leave with their assets only if they pay for them at full market value or the equivalent. If it were clearly stated that any such decision had to be made by a date certain, it would be unreasonable for affiliation with schismatic organizations past that date to be tolerated.

  4. "Give Them Just Enough Rope ...": Do what many dioceses and parishes, including Missouri, Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, and Calvary Episcopal Church (Pittsburgh), have done: act through courts and canons to protect the church when it becomes necessary. This strategy includes tolerating ACN clergy until they clearly reject the authority of the church, accepting that they have abandoned their cures and the communion of the church, and reclaiming their parishes for TEC as the canons allow. It also includes suing breakaway parishes to retain them for TEC and that portion of the parish faithful to TEC. The church’s canons often require, at least from bishops with jurisdiction, such actions as have been taken that are consonant with this model.

  5. Pro-actively Prevent Schism: Protect and defend the church by neutralizing the dangers posed to TEC by the ACN and its sources of support. Hold accountable the leaders who have rejected the authority of General Convention and/or have created a parallel church. This would involve going a step beyond #4, and deciding that the ACN represents under law what it is in fact: a separate church designed to strip TEC of legitimacy as well as resources for ministry. This would also require actions to restore governance in dioceses where a majority of the leaders reject the governance structures of TEC. This model would extend the strategy under model #4 to cover actions of diocesan leaders, not just parish leaders, to protect the church before its detractors do it more harm, and to re-integrate ACN parishes and clergy, as far as possible, into the mainstream of TEC.
Knowing which of these to choose as a strategy requires deciding where the church’s work should concentrate. Should it focus on those who are most disaffected by certain of its current trends and decisions? Or should it focus on those who are fully committed to the church’s unity and integrity, whether or not they are in favor of particular trends and decisions? To ask these questions is to seek to discover what forms of greater unity we should work towards, and which ones are possible.

I believe that the church’s responsibility is the greater toward continuing Episcopalians and those who will seek to join the church in the future than to those who have put themselves into dissent. Our responsibility is greatest, however, for those who most heartily wish for this controversy to end in a way that remembers that this is Christ’s church, not ours.


David Fly Introduces "Remaining Faithful" Gathering

The Rev. David Fly opened the first meeting of The Episcopal Majority this afternoon with the following remarks to open the "Remaining Faithful" gathering, held at St. Columba's parish in Washington, D.C. You can find the complete meeting agenda and list of speakers by clicking here.

One should always give credit where credit is due. Last summer during the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus, a few of us organized a reunion of former [I started to say “old,” but thought better of it!] university chaplains. It was a great meeting; just being together again reminded us of many of the battles we’d been through together in the late '60s and '70s and also reminded us why we love this church so much. But we were disturbed by some of what we saw at Convention and disturbed at a kind of negative attitude that seemed to have taken root in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. It reminded us a bit of American politics. The "right" had been allowed to define the terms of the debate. What was once honored as Anglican freedom – that two Episcopalians have never been known to fully agree on anything! – was now seen as a weakness rather than a strength. A church that was once celebrated as a “big tent” now saw groups pitching their own tents and declaring themselves to be the “true tent.”

So, as our little reunion ended, we did what Episcopalians have done for as long as I can remember: we went to dinner and had a drink! Now comes the “giving credit where credit is due.” A group of us were at a lovely Columbus restaurant and our friend Bob Grandfelt, a former chaplain, who now lives in Pennsylvania, brought along Thornhill and Jane Cosby as his guests. Jane was a Deputy to Convention. Jane sat across from me and Bill Coats and listened to us rant and rave about the state of the church. “It just makes you sad to see all this going on, because we know that the majority of folks in the Episcopal Church love their church and don’t want it to be torn apart,” one of us said. And then Jane Cosby looked at both of us from across the table and said, “The only question is: what are you going to do about it?” It was a conversation stopper!

But it also stimulated further conversation between Bill and me. Then, on June 25th, a few days after convention, Bill sent me the following e-mail:

“Is it possible,” he wrote, “to create a nation-wide organization/movement specifically designed to defend our church and to combat Windsor? How is this done? Well we write some manifesto and we call for a national gathering somewhere.
Could we actually do this. Am I smoking something?
And who is the "we" here? Is it really at its core the old Episcopal Society for Ministry in Higher Education crowd? Now it may be possible to launch this by reaching out in conversation to people we know across the land. In a kind of preliminary way, see if they would like to do something like this. I am sure our crowd could come up with 50 - 60 people to get some initial feedback. And if it is positive (there will be energy right after this GC) to go all out in a national call.
Of course I am leaving out such things as money, our age, reality.”

Well, there you have it. The beginning of a response to Jane Cosby’s question “What are you going to do about it?” and the beginning of a group now known as The Episcopal Majority.

Bill and I sent out his paper, called “A Manifesto” to all our friends across the land and, lo and behold, they began to answer. Before long, we had a Steering Committee that represented a cross-section of the Episcopal Church: Lisa Fox, a layperson in Jefferson City, Missouri; George Bedell, a priest in the Diocese of Florida; Richard Tombaugh, a priest from Connecticut; Bob Smith, a layperson from Florida; Mark Harris, a priest who now lives in Maryland; Jeffrey Simbeck, layperson from St. Louis; Tom Woodward, a priest now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Judy Mathews, a layperson from Florida.

Many of us only knew each other by e-mail, but we began working and planning together. We decided that we would call a meeting on the weekend of the Investiture of our new Presiding Bishop. Then on August 9, I got an e-mail from Lisa Fox from Jefferson City who announced that she had just secured a blogsite for us. If we didn’t want it, she said, we should just let her know, and she would forget about it. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for Lisa Fox, I don’t think we’d be here today because within three weeks we had 7,000 visits to our blog and to date over 29,000. Word began to spread, and our mailing list grew so that around the 1st of September I was sending an e-mail to you all when AOL kicked me off-line. They thought I was a spammer! I was panicked. I thought I had lost everything. But our techno-geek, Jeffrey, came to our aid and overnight sat up a website that had all the bells and whistles – The Episcopal Majority took another giant step.

So, here we are. Over 100 of you, from 45 dioceses, have committed yourselves to being a part of this gathering, and we hope it will be the beginning of a movement to defend and support our church.

Most of you used the online registration form on our website to register for today’s meeting. And you were invited to answer the question, “What one thing would you like our gathering to accomplish?” In looking over that section on the form, the responses seem to fall into three or four categories:
  1. Reinforce, enlarge, and/or strengthen the voices of current Episcopalians who want to support TEC.
  2. Provide tools, support, and/or strategic ideas for persons to use in challenging the Network in their own dioceses.
  3. Provide communication with and support for loyal parishes in dissenting dioceses.
  4. Build international coalitions.
Hopefully, today we can get a start on responding to some of those concerns.

You’ll see we have a wonderful keynote speaker today who will be introduced by Mark Harris. You’ll also see that we have a series of workshops that will meet beginning at 3:30. The goal of this time together is to plan strategy and action that we can take in the future. We want to get very specific in those workshops and report on our progress when we get back together as a group at 5:30. We’ll meet until about 7 this evening and then break for the day. I want to be sure and let you know that we have a hospitality room at the Omni Shoreham and everyone is invited to drop by. Just ask for the room number at the desk.

Tomorrow morning, from 8:30 until 10:00, we will have an open Steering Committee meeting. At that time will go through the suggestions from the workshops and decide on a schedule for action. I know many of you with tickets to Bishop Jefferts Schori's investiture must get to the Cathedral early and won’t be here, but anyone who can make it is invited to be a part of this meeting in the morning.

Let me say at the beginning that the Steering Committee has shaped an agenda for this meeting, but I want to emphasize that this is a grassroots movement. We want your participation. Together we will give voice to The Episcopal Majority. This is just a beginning. Hopefully today we’ll begin the networking [if you’ll pardon the expression] that will serve us in the future. Tomorrow we will install a new Presiding Bishop who is committed to the vision of the Church we all share. And then on Sunday, we return to our parishes and our dioceses where the hard work is done and where the vision we hold for the Episcopal Church becomes a reality.

Again, let me thank you for taking the time and making the commitment to be here this weekend. You are the answer to the prayers of a lot of Episcopalians who have written us to say, “Thank you for being there and speaking for me.” You are an answer to Jane Cosby’s question: “So, what are you going to do about it?”


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pray for the Church

Over 130 people have pre-registered for the "Remaining Faithful" gathering of The Episcopal Majority, which begins at 1:00 p.m. Friday in Washington, DC. The response to this meeting has surprised and delighted us, as we merely reserved space that would accommodate 150 people.

Some of the people who have pre-registered have other reasons to be in Washington this weekend. Many are joyfully present to attend the investiture of Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Some are attending other meetings such as the Episcopal Women's Caucus. But very, very many are traveling from throughout the entire Episcopal Church merely to gather with other faithful Episcopalians in this meeting – and to put their hearts and minds into the work of finding a way forward together.

Many hundreds – or maybe even thousands – more people cannot attend this weekend's meeting, but have expressed hope and support for the initiative that The Episcopal Majority has launched. And very many of them have written to ask us, "What can I do"? We respond as Christians – people of the Spirit – people of the Covenant have through these many centuries: Pray. Pray that the leaders and participants in this meeting will be inspired by the Spirit to walk in love and that they will be inspired with creativity to find ways to support this church of ours. Pray that the working sessions will be filled with the Spirit of unity, truth, and creativity. Pray that the deliberations in Washington this weekend will contribute to the unity of the Episcopal Church.

And if you don't know what to pray, use these prayers out of our Book of Common Prayer:

7. For the Church

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

12. For a Church Convention or Meeting

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in the "Remaining Faithful" meeting for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

14. For the Unity of the Church

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And if you have other prayers – or thoughts and wishes – for this weekend's gathering, please share them here in the "Comments" section.