Friday, October 26, 2007

What About Canterbury?

by Lisa Fox

Much has been said in the blogosphere about the missives between Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) and John Howe (Bishop of Central Florida) over the past week. Episcopal News Service published a summary here of the Archbishop's initial letter and his clarification. Thinking Anglicans published the background here, then offered a summary of reactions here, here, and here . The good folks at the Episcopal Café also did a fine job with the Archbishop's initial message and his "clarification," as did Mark Harris in his essay, "The Archbishop Makes a Mess," andFather Jake in his "More Confusion from Canterbury."

In his statements, the Archbishop seems to state that the fundamental connection to the Anglican Communion is through bishops – not through the national/provincial churches of the Communion. He wrote to the embattled Bishop Howe:

… any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such.
Also in that letter, Archbishop Williams repeats the "primacy" of the diocese as the primary unit, while also discouraging the dissidents in "Windsor-compliant" dioceses:

I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the ‘national church’.
The Archbishop made a similar statement from New Orleans, which I noted here.

His clarification did little to clarify, as Father Andrew Gerns piquantly observed.

I must confess, I do not understand what the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to say, much less why he responded so swiftly to the Bishop of Central Florida. Trustworthy, published reports say that the Archbishop of Canterbury responded to the Bishop of Central Florida in 12 hours. By contrast, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to attend the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and it took years – literally years – for our House of Bishops to persuade him to meet with them.

I am but a lowly Episcopal layperson. But I read the news every week of the Archbishop circling the globe to meet with this or that body within or very far outside the Anglican Communion. I do not understand why he would shun the Episcopal Church, while meeting with other, wildly diverse churches.

I have some sense of what the Archbishop of Canterbury is doing, and of the weakness he is exercising in his office. As the House of Bishops meeting ended, I received a message from Douglas Theuner, the retired Bishop of New Hampshire, who wrote in part:

Despite the long-awaited visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the hopes of many, if not all, the bishops present that he might help to show us a new way forward (I had specifically and publicly asked him for that on Thursday morning but my request, like most others, went unanswered), he offered nothing other than to encourage us to seek "common discernment"; something which most of us feel we have been trying to do since long before he became Archbishop of Canterbury.

To top ("bottom") that off, on Friday morning he left without even giving us his blessing! Now, some might say, "So what? What's the big deal?" But that is to misunderstand the power of Anglican iconography. That's what we do, we bishops. We bless. No matter how much time and energy we put into teaching, preaching, administration or anything else, what we do primarily is bless God's people in God's Name. Isn't that what the current "crisis" in the Anglican Communion is all about?
Bishop Theuner's reflections make me wonder how Archbishop Williams understands his role as a bishop – much less as the archbishop and "first among equals."

To me, it appears that the Archbishop of Canterbury has already written off the Episcopal Church. It appears that he attended the House of Bishops meeting as a passive presence, not as one who was actively engaged in seeking a solution or in the vaunted role of reconciliation of which he speaks.

Is the Archbishop of Canterbury actually, actively working for reconciliation in the Anglican Communion? Has he given up? Does he hope the Episcopal Church remains within the Communion, or is he with those who want to boot us out? For the life of me, I cannot tell.

About the Author: Lisa Fox, webmaster and Board member of The Episcopal Majority, is a layperson, vestry member, crucifer, and Eucharistic Minister at Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City, Missouri.


Anonymous obadiahslope said...

you may be reading far more into the archbishop's letters than is warranted.
Can dioceses relate to the Anglican Communion without a provincial structure? Yes, there are several extra-provincial members of the Anglican Communion who do without a provincial structure. It is clear then that a provincial structure is NOT fundamental to belonging to the Anglican Communion.
The invitation list for Lambeth made it clear that membership of a provincial house of bishops did not guarantee a welcome at the conference. Bishop Akinola and TEC were both upset at this.
Is it too subtle to suggest that the web of relationships that make up the Anglican Communion run diocese to diocese as well as province to province. The lambeth conferemce links dioceses (some of which have no province).
On the other hand the ACC and the Primates' Meetings are made up of members sent by teir provinces.
Is the Anglican Communion made up of provinces or dioceses? The answer is both.

10/28/2007 1:56 AM  
Anonymous Fr Craig said...

Lisa - I am also puzzled by the ABC's attitude to TEC. My suspicion is - since ++Rowan is a brilliant man - that he is playing to the right, especially the African right for the simple reason that he knows TEC won't do anything like leave. In this way, he gives the conservative side all the rope that they need to hang themselves. If they leave, he's done everything he could possibly to to stop that.
Just my guess

10/30/2007 10:16 AM  

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