Lambeth Palace on “the issue of vesture” AKA #mitregate

In the latest episode of Southwark, Lambeth Palace refers to #mitregate as “the issue of vesture”. At least LP didn’t choose the words “wardrobe malfunction.”

An American Episcopalian received the response below to his email concerning his “disappointment … in the manner in which our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was treated during her recent visit to Southwark Cathedral.” (We have omitted the correspondent’s name.)

Paternalistic sums up the last paragraph. As to the rest, the PB had gone through the ecclesial vetting process before, and it is not uncommon for overseas clergy to preside at eucharist as a one off without the formalities required of those serving for an extended period in the C of E. As to the policy that “the agreed approach of the English bishops is that women bishops celebrating under these provisions should do so without the insignia of episcopal office so as to avoid possible misunderstandings” that has Dr. Strangelove written all over it. “Misunderstandings” would be avoided by announcing it. Which we just did. What is avoided by a hidden policy is appeasement of traditionalists — as long as the woman bishop is willing to play along.


Sent: Monday, June 21, 2010 1:14 PM

Subject: RE: [ID: 81888] AB Comment from an American Episcopalian

Dear Mr _____,

Thank you for your e-mail to which I have been asked to respond as, I am sure you will understand, Archbishop Rowan is not able to reply personally to as much of the correspondence he receives as he would wish. It may help if I set out some of the background to the questions you raise.

The Dean of Southwark first issued an invitation to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori before the Lambeth Conference in 2008 – one in what I understand to be an ongoing programme of invitations to Primates of the Anglican Communion. She was not able to accept the invitation at that time and last Sunday’s date was subsequently agreed. Initially the invitation was to preach, however, earlier this month it became clear that the Presiding Bishop would be asked to preside at the Eucharist too. As the intention was for her to ‘officiate’ at a service the Archbishop’s permission was required under the provisions of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967. This is a matter of English law. The Archbishop’s permission under the Measure is the means of confirming a person’s eligibility to exercise their ministry in the Church of England and applies to any clergy ordained overseas. The application form (an example of which is at asks the necessary questions – although in the Presiding Bishop’s case it was explicit that the ‘letters of orders’ were not required. The Archbishop’s permission was sought and granted, although the legal and canonical framework of the Church of England prevents the Archbishops granting permission for a woman priest to exercise a sacramental ministry other than as a priest. The agreed approach of the English bishops [not all] is that women bishops celebrating under these provisions should do so without the insignia of episcopal office so as to avoid possible misunderstandings.

As you might imagine, I am not in a position to answer the questions about what permissions or evidence of orders the Episcopal Church require of clergy from other parts of the Anglican Communion.

Please be assured that the Archbishop, and those of us who support his ministry, had no intention to slight the Presiding Bishop. Indeed, by ensuring that the legal formalities were observed it was hoped that she, and the Dean of Southwark, might be spared the embarrassment that might have flowed from any challenge to her presiding and preaching at the cathedral. The media interest provoked over the issue of vesture has, of course, undermined that hope – as your letter makes clear.

Yours in Christ,

Anthony Ball

Sent by Jack Target on behalf of:

The Revd Canon Anthony Ball

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chaplain

Lambeth Palace, London

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  1. ruidh

    Sounds like a reasonable explanation. Mountain, meet molehill.

    Roy Murphy

  2. I’m puzzled, given the media flap, why this wasn’t made public by Lambeth earlier, or at least explained more carefully to our PB.

    I suppose, as in all bureaucracies, the wheels move slowly, and the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. . .

  3. Jason Wells

    Personally, I find this response too little, too late. If it is a matter of English law and concern about women as bishops, then how does he explain Bishops Griswold and Tottenham allowed to mitre during their visits?

    Applying the law to one person while ignoring it for others is the definition of injustice.

  4. EH Culver

    The Presiding Bishop is still right: “bizarre – beyond bizarre.” And I’d go beyond that to say that requiring the credentials of a primate in the Anglican Communion is just plain ridiculous. Finally, I agree with Jason Wells. What, indeed, about Bishops Griswold and Tottenham being allowed to wear their mitres?

  5. well, Frank is a guy, so irrelevant. Did Ann preside? If no, irrelevant; if yes, then a case.

    But the interesting point is that their desire to spare the PB embarrassment was not frustrated by the media notice, but their desire to avoid embarrassing the ABC (again) was.

  6. Bonnie Spivey

    Surely the ABC is allowed some latitude and discretion in his decision making in this area.

    And really at this point in time and given the information in this post wouldn’t he have personally sent a short note to our PB saying, “So sorry about this. No offense was intended.” How hard can that be?

  7. Kevin Montgomery

    There’s also the case of Bishop Gray-Reeves’ visit to Gloucestr (?). Did she get to wear the mitre when she presided at a Eucharist at the cathedral?

    As for the PB, why should presiding (or being chief celebrant if you prefer) make a difference? The mitre is not worn at the celebration of the Eucharist. Besides, she is present and acting as a bishop whether she performs any specifically episcopal acts or not. She cannot be temporarily de-ordained for that period of time. If the issue were indeed the outward signs of her being a bishop, then why stop at just the mitre and crosier? Why not the bishop’s ring and pectoral cross? Was she allowed to wear a purple shirt at any point while she was in the country? Or is it just a matter of the most visible aspects and a denial of reality? The Church of England and the ABC seem to be pretty good at that.

  8. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    @ F. Harry Stowe,

    Ann reports that she did celebrate in Episcopal attire. See earlier lead post at link

    I suspect that a statement like this is mostly a post-hoc “patch” job to save face. All along, I felt that it was very likely a subordinate at Lambeth who made the decision, but I suspect we will never know. Whether it was a pre-meditated “slap in the face” or just bumbling, it still looks bad, inside the church and out. How about just an apology from the ABC? Persons in high positions often need to apologize for things that they did not personally do. It would do much to soothe tensions here and overseas if they just said “we’re sorry!” rather than all of this other mess. C of E needs a media consultant, I think.

  9. tobias haller

    Canon Ball, is, of course, a character from Trollope…

    Tobias, just being silly. It’s 92 degrees and the a/c isn’t working.

  10. Two observations:

    First, our Presiding Bishop, beyond calling this “bizarre – beyond bizarre” in private comments she later allowed to be made public, appears not to be bothered by any of this. She issued no public statements and, in fact, really made no public issue of it until it was picked up by ENS. In fact, she seems far less bothered than either the media or others. It seems like others would like to make this just another excuse to be ticked off at the ABC. This sort of “lets you and him fight” is generally referred to as triangulation. I’d say, if +Katherine was unwilling to make an issue of it, we may as well let it pass.

    Second, there seems a basic disconnect between TEC and the C of E (and, perhaps, the majority of the Anglican Communion) over the importance of symbols. Americans tend to be a pragmatic, materialistic (in many senses of the word) people. So, we figure “she’s a bishop, why not let her wear bishop stuff?” The English, it seems to me, have a much deeper sense of the role of symbol–+Katherine wearing a mitre or carrying a crozier or Primate’s staff would be seen in that context (in the midst of a hot debate on women bishops) as an “in your face” display of her office, not simply the normal everyday thing.

    While England may be overly concerned with appearances, perhaps we might consider that we are not as concerned about appearances as we should be.

  11. John B. Chilton

    Tom, you state your view well. You may find the following supports your view, although I come to the opposite conclusion:

    There was one positive moment when Canon Kearon said to Bishop Katharine, “I gather you’ve also been visiting England and there have been some issues that arose during your visit there. I just want to say I’m not a member of the Church of England, I’m a member of the Church of Ireland.” Most of us took this to be a back door apology for the way Bishop Katharine was treated by the Archbishop of Canterbury [he told her not to wear a mitre] — “mitregate,” as it is being called. By the way, Bishop Katharine remains amazed at the uproar over it, and she clearly is losing no sleep over something she calls “bizarre, just bizarre.” She did comment in conversation that the readings that day were wonderfully apt, being about the woman who knelt before Jesus with her hair uncovered.

    More: As dr. primrose notes over here,

    “although in the Presiding Bishop’s case it was explicit that the ‘letters of orders’ were not required.” By contrast, an Episcopal News Service press release says that, “In the week before her visit, the presiding bishop said, Lambeth pressured her office to provide evidence of her ordination to each order of ministry.” So which was it? And whom does one believe? It’s a credibility issue and, unfortunately, Lambeth doesn’t seem to have much credibility here.

  12. Gary Gilbert

    How ironic that the Presiding Bishop would not have had to submit any papers if she had only preached! Preaching is a much more difficult and serious task than reading eucharistic prayers.

    This letter betrays prejudice by speaking of priests and bishops who happen to be women as women priests and women bishops, thus othering them and making them appear strange. Male priests and male bishops are, according to Lambeth Palace, simply priests and bishops. There are the separate and unequal categories called “woman priest” and “woman bishop” (from provinces which choose candidates for the episcopate regardless of their legal sex).

    This letter does little to fix the public relations disaster Lambeth Palace has made for itself.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  13. Dä'ved Äyan | David Allen

    John you might reconsider your last post once you realize the hollowness of the statement.

    From a posted comment at Desert’s Child;

    Canon Kearon used the opening joke about being Irish two years ago in another meeting in the Diocese of Massachusetts. It is a stock line, I’m afraid, and was not an expression of sympathy. It is just something he says at the beginning of conversations to muddy the waters a bit.

    Tim in Massachusetts

  14. Paul Woodrum

    Is it Anglophilia, graciousness or naivete that makes Americans so anxious to explain, justify and forgive the power plays of the Archbishop of Canterbury?

    Or maybe it’s just a shallow understanding of history. Canterbury is an ancient see sinking into oblivion. The present successor to Augustine is doing all in his power to preserve its viability among the patriarchates of the world.

    The strategy is to ally it with rising, if quite fractured, power in the Global South and in the remnants of the British Empire. America left long ago and TEC is a convenient scapegoat around which to rally support for Canterbury’s precedence. Any act of humiliation, no matter how petty, serves this purpose whether its not allowing our Primate to wear a miter or its casting American representatives off ecumenical commissions.

    This isn’t an issue of vesture. It’s an issue of power. No matter how silly we may think it is, the ABC won this round and it sounds like we don’t know what hit us or why.

  15. Canon K F KKing Tssf

    My experience in the S African Diocese of Bloemfontein, not having carried my ordination with me (!), my Bishop of Idaho had to send a letter of commendation with the pertinent ordination info, before I was granted a Licence to officiate in the congregations shepherded by my host, the first African archdeacon in the Diocese — granted two months after I had been cordially welcomed in both white (this was 1970) congregations as well as the African.

    ABC knew better than do what he did.

  16. …the ABC won this round and it sounds like we don’t know what hit us or why.

    Paul, that would be a matter of opinion, surely, and only true if you consider that that TEC and the CofE are engaged in a boxing match with a clear winner and loser in each round and one clear winner at the end of the match.

    June Butler

  17. Paul Woodrum

    June, good analogy except that ecclesiastical power struggles tend to be ages long with rather murky results that don’t become clear for centuries.

    I think the ABC knows he’s in the ring and has his gloves on. I’m not sure we Americans have yet even figured out where the ring is.

  18. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    @ Paul Woodrum,

    I suspect that on the question of the ring, you may be right. For most of us in TEC there is not an (Anglican) ring, and we very much do not want there to be one, especially if we make the ABC and the primates the referees! : )

  19. Ron Smith

    I’m a little late on this issue, I know, but I thought you all in TEC ought to be let into a little secret, it is this: Bishop Katharine was joyfully welcomed to Solemn Evensong at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Christchurch, N.Z. where, in company with the local Maori Bishop John Gray, she wore her mitre in the procession and preached the most inspiring sermon – about the love and mercy of God – which is what we all really want to hear about.

    God Bless TEC and Bishop Katharine in your prophetic mission to the Church and the World. Fr. Ron Smith, NZ

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