Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bishop Kelsey Commits News

In a week where many bishops have written generally predictable, while often moving and passionate, statements about the recent House of Bishops meeting, Bishop James Kelsey (Diocese of Northern Michigan) has committed news. His is the most expansive and news-filled report we have yet seen, and we encourage you to read his entire report on the bishops' meeting.

Bishop Kelsey wrote his reflections on the plane ride home on March 22 in what he describes as a "personal account of my experience there." We are quoting liberally from his blog.

He provides detailed background about the Anglican primates meeting in Tanzania in February and the communiqué they issued – including a September 30, 2007 deadline by which time the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church were to make a commitment not to authorize liturgies for the blessings of same sex relationships, and to reiterate that no consents would be given for the election of any gay or lesbian persons to be bishop in any diocese unless a consensus emerges throughout the Anglican Communion for this to happen. (Click here for the full text of the Communiqué.)

He explains the primates' design for a "Pastoral Scheme" and observes that "the so-called 'Primatial Vicar' . . . would be nominated by the handful of bishops who have identified themselves as 'Windsor compliant bishops.'" He recaps the history of the "Instruments of Unity," and observes a fact we had not heard – namely, that the Primates Meeting began in the 1970s in reaction against the ordination of women in Hong Kong, the United States, and other Provinces.

Bishop Kelsey has this to say about the Windsor Report and the Pastoral Scheme:

What is significant about the Windsor Report is that it redefines the very nature of the Anglican Communion, which has never been a world-wide Church - only a consultative and collegial relationship between completely autonomous Provinces. To redefine the Communion as a world-wide juridical Church is to make the Archbishop of Canterbury more like a Pope, the Primates more like a Curia, and resolutions passed at the Lambeth Conference more like binding legislation, none of which has ever been true in the history of our Church. And thus, there are very few bishops in the Episcopal Church who have identified themselves as "Windsor compliant", and it is quite disturbing that these few would be given authority to select a "Primatial Vicar" who would be responsible to a "Pastoral Council" (not to our Presiding Bishop, according to the Communiqué, but to a "Pastoral Council") which would be made up of five persons, two appointed by our Presiding bishop, two appointed by the Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting, and the Chair appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This Pastoral Council would have authority to adjudicate disagreements within The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Kelsey reports on his productive work with the "Bishops Working for a Just Society" and TEAM (Towards Effective Anglican Mission). He reports: "It was encouraging to hear about how these Anglicans from around the globe approached the US Episcopalians who were there, and made clear that despite the unpleasantness coming out of the Primates' meeting, they were eager to continue our partnerships in mission of all sorts and configurations, and that they had no intention of withdrawing from communion with us, regardless of what official actions are being taken by the Primates."

He then segues to a most amazing encounter between U.S. bishops attending TEAM and the Archbishop of Canterbury:

But it was discouraging to hear about a meeting held between Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the US Episcopal bishops who were present. It was clear that at the meeting, Rowan Williams was uncomfortable and defensive, and that he has a distorted picture of The Episcopal Church (believing that the dissidents in our midst make up 40% of the Episcopal Church - - a bizarre and wildly inaccurate figure). When asked how the rest of the world perceives our efforts to promote and advance the Millennium Development Goals, Williams responded that he thought it was received as "papering over differences, and buying votes". (Quite a different read from the face to face encounters our people experienced throughout the TEAM conference!). When asked what would happen after the September 30th deadline set by the Primates' Communiqué, and who would decide about the adequacy of the response of the Episcopal Church to its demands, Rowan Williams responded that it would not be he who would decide since, as he said, "I'm not a Pope; that's not how our system works... I'll take it to the Primates, and they will decide". (As if that's how our system works!!!) This was sobering to hear, to say the least! At least we know where we stand, and what lies ahead. This again, helped set the stage for what transpired at the meeting that was about to begin.
His report includes other revelations.

[It] quickly became apparent that there was an over-riding agreement that the Primates, in their Communiqué, had far over-stepped their authority, and were claiming for themselves a power which is not theirs, and which represents a centralization which is decidedly un-Anglican.
The two presentations about the proposed Anglican Covenant seemed to move many bishops.

The first to speak to us was a self-described conservative, Ephraim Radner. He has been a main player with the dissident groups in the Church, and many of us were frankly shocked to realize what a significant role he has representing our Church, given his very marginal perspective. Reception of his remarks were, at best, lukewarm.

The next to speak was Kathy Grieb, a New Testament professor of Virginia Theological Seminary . . . . [W]hat she articulated absolutely blew the whistle on the whole dynamic, and by her truth saying, everything was out on the table in a way that moved us ahead. It was also a tremendously stirring presentation, which received a standing ovation from some, though not by any means all, of the bishops. She described the early stages of the Covenant Design process and then described with condemning clarity how everything has changed with the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of the Primates. She explained that the Communiqué reveals how the Covenant, once established, will be interpreted, and that what it indicates is that the Primates are assuming for themselves unprecedented power and influence over the several Provinces of the Church, including The Episcopal Church, and that they are not even willing to wait for the Covenant Design process to be completed before asserting that power. She recommends that The Episcopal Church withdraw from the Anglican Communion for five years, to give everyone a chance to cool down and think through what our future relations might become. While this specific proposal was not where the Bishops were, collectively, and while such a decision would certainly involve discernment by the whole Church and not just the bishops (probably requiring a special General Convention) - her analysis was powerful and, I believe, had a significant impact on the course of the meeting. You can read the full text of her presentation at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_83906_ENG_HTM.htm
He then describes in detail the votes in the House of Bishops, the resolutions offered, the amendments, and how they were handled. It is a fascinating read. He concludes the discussion of this phase with this observation:

In my opinion, what finally passed is a strong statement about who we are and where we are prepared to stand. We do intend to continue relationships with Anglicans world-wide, in whatever official or unofficial capacity might be possible. We have no idea how the Primates or the ACC will respond. Rowan Williams has since said he was "disappointed" in our resolution, and that is hardly surprising, since he no doubt had been hoping that we would capitulate to all of the demands of the Primates.
Bishop Kelsey also reports on solidarity from other churches in the Anglican Communion:

During the meeting, we had present four out of five members of the House of Bishops in Mexico . . . . They stood together on the platform before us and pledged to us their full support and their intention to stay in communion with us. . . . And there are other Provinces (such as in Scotland & Ireland & New Zealand & South Africa & Botswana) who have previously indicated their support for The Episcopal Church and their intentions to stay in communion with us. So, now we will need to wait and watch to see what the Executive Council does, and what others around the Anglican Communion choose to do. In any event, we have tried to be clear and honest about who we are and where we will stand.
He also reports "some very disturbind dynamics" from those who had been at the Primates' meeting in Tanzania. He cites one primate's report:

[E]very time there was a break, new amendments were proposed for the Communiqué, always more critical of The Episcopal Church. His comment was, "as the meeting went on, I began to feel less like a Primate and more like a Cardinal". Between his observations and those of our press corps, it was clear, in fact, that every time there was a break, Peter Akinola disappeared into a room where Martin Minns and other conservative US folks were holed up, and when he emerged, he had the next revisions for the Communiqué - which in fact were adopted. In the earlier drafts, there was a phrase "We respect The Episcopal Church", and on the strength alone of Peter Akinola's objection, that phrase was removed. All of this provides important information: that it is clear who is in control of the Primates' Meeting, and this reinforces why it is so important that the Primates not be given increased power as a centralized authority in the Anglican Communion.
He reports this from the morning of the last business day:

Stacy Sauls, Bishop of Lexington and Chair of the Property Disputes Committee gave an in depth report concerning research done on the tactics of the Network and the American Anglican Council (AAC) and other conservative/dissident groups. It was chilling. There is now clear evidence that there has been a strategy by these groups to create an alternative ecclesial structure within the United States, with alternative leadership (Robert Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh as the Moderator of the Network) which might be recognized by the leadership of the Anglican Communion (i.e. - by those strengthened "Instruments of Unity") as the true Anglican Church in the United States. If indeed the Anglican Communion is transformed into a hierarchical body (through the implementation of the Windsor Report recommendations) and the Primates shift their support to the Network/AAC/CANA/AMiA congregations & dioceses, there will be a legal basis by which the dissident congregations will be able to claim ownership of all properties and church assets. This is serious stuff.
He concludes with an impression of the meeting:

It was a good meeting, and while it's clear that there will be others in the Anglican Communion who will wish we had come to other conclusions, what we did come up with is honest, clear, and (I believe) with integrity.
We have only excerpted a fraction of Bishop Kelsey's reflections. Go here to read the entire piece.

Then go also to The Daily Episcopalian, where seasoned news journalist Jim Naughton comments on Bishop Kelsey's report.

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