If the Episcopal Church got adventuresome

The Rev. Geoffrey Hoare, rector of All Saints Church in Atlanta, suggests that the Anglican Communion may be moving beyond an arrangement in which dioceses, or even provinces, are defined by geographical boundaries:

"In such a brave new world I hope the Episcopal Church would move swiftly to begin seeking partners throughout the world in order to sustain the possibility of broad, relational graceful, generous, inviting catholicity. One of the first steps would be a move to begin planting churches in England in which our way of living and proclaiming the gospel would be welcomed by many as a breath of fresh air (while doubtless condemned by others as American arrogance).

My question is how we would do such a thing decently and in order. Would England (or elsewhere) become a missionary district established by General Convention? A Suffragan operation akin to the Bishop for the Armed Forces or Bishop in Europe? An extension of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe (although we would be seeking to introduce English Episcopalianism rather than extending an essentially ex-pat operation)? A somewhat random diocesan mission?

I will be writing to some friends seeking response, thoughts and ideas to this bare bones, but quite serious, proposal, and would appreciate, welcome and encourage vigorous debate and response ...

This proposal may not be entirely practical, but it raises an interesting question: what would happen if the Episcopal Church started to behave toward other provinces the way that the border crossing Primates are behaving toward us?

Comments (15)

My question is how we would do such a thing decently and in order. Would England (or elsewhere) become a missionary district established by General Convention?

An excellent idea! To me, England is ripe for planting a missionary outreach of the Episcopal Church. Perhaps the best way to do it "decently and in order" would be through the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.

June Butler

I think there is still good theological and historical reasons for a polity mostly based upon geographically designated dioceses.

Furthermore, in this case, two wrongs don't make a right.

I agree that two wrongs don't make a right, and I think if the Episcopal Church behaved like its adversaries the Communion would disintegrate into chaos. On the other hand, there is clearly great political advantage in organizing and going on the offensive. Conservatives around the Communion can now make life miserable for their diocesan bishop or primate by pledging allegiance to GAFCON. What's the liberal alternative? Stay in a Communion that still demands a moratorium on full inclusion? At the moment, Rowan Williams is holding our arms behind our back and Peter Akinola is working us over. Oh, and by the way, we are paying them to do so. There is an argument for going on the offensive against both of them. I am not saying I support it, but I think we have to admit that it is tempting.

Before we get our surplices in a bundle, this is clearly somewhat toungue-in-cheek. Nonetheless, it is a very thought-provoking discussion to think about how one could turn the tables. There also is certainly a need for a more inclusive church in other parts of the world. Even the 79BCP is broad enough to be adapted to other cultures more effectively than the more-often adopted 1662 version. As for the the practicalities, there would definately have to be an act of General Convention to put together some sort of task force that could think out an official way that this could be done. If we didn't want to go through all that red tape, we could just stop asking overseas bishops for their permission before sending missionaries. That would use an existing structure, and would save a, normally irritating, step for the missions department at 815.


Matthew, in future comments please use your full name. It's part of the policy at the Cafe. - eds.

I'm not talking tit for tat or revenge. The CofE is less democratic than the Episcopal Church, and a good many people and clergy in England feel that they have no voice in the direction of their church. Besides, the Anglican Communion is already on the path of disintegration, even without this step.

That's not to say that I wouldn't feel a sense of satisfaction if this were to happen. I can forgive, but I can't forget that the ABC locked Bp. Robinson out of Lambeth.

June Butler

Jim, you wrote, "What's the liberal alternative?" I don't think the Episcopal Church's positions can be characterized as liberal - they seem right in line with mainstream public opinion in the USA.

The folks on the conservative side of this situation find it to be in their strategic interests to present the situation as deeply divided, trembling on the brink of chaos, Christians against pagans, persecution of the innocent, yadda yadda yadda. It's of the first importance that *****mainstream Episcopalians**** not enter this discourse - that we not let ourselves be pushed or taunted into responding with a similar rhetoric of adversarity.

Some of them are really nice people. I loved reading about NEAC 2008. Nice people, refusing to be stampeded.

I served the Diocese where I live for eight years on the board of that state Council of Churches. I came to believe through that work that unity is God's constantly-renewed gift to the church. When we are ready to receive it, it is given.

How thankful I am for the Episcopal Church, a church that doesn't act from a need to be right all the time, a church with the confidence to be irenic. The Holy Spirit can straighten this out.

Pamela Grenfell Smith

Pamela, I appreciate your optimism. I wish I shared it. What I see is a church that for much of the last five years has behaved as though it is too frightened of offending anyone to defend itself, and too complacent to imagine that it would ever need to fight to survive.

I think there is still good theological and historical reasons for a polity mostly based upon geographically designated dioceses. Furthermore, in this case, two wrongs don't make a right.

I second Jared's opinion.

Besides, it is possible to support new church plants within the framework of the Church of England itself. There are many English parishes there much more liberal than the average Episcopal Church, and they'd be very interested in starting new ministries with the aid of brothers and sisters on the other side of the Atlantic. Most English bishops wouldn't mind at all such initiatives.

Also, I think there are areas in the US itself that need strong funding and church planting. For example, why not supporting the faithful in Fort Worth, Pittsburg etc? With the departure of large portions of such dioceses, there are Episcopalians without a parish to attend within large geographical areas.

Finally, several dioceses in TEC are visibly shrinking, and that is not necessarily because of the departure of conservative churches. Surely there are seekers and opportunities, and in many cases that involves church planting in new areas and/or revitalizing downtown congregations with new ministries and alternative worship times.

I tend to interpret Fr. Geoffrey's article as an exercise of imagination, and I personally think it's always good to sponsor missionary efforts (as long as they happen within the structures of friend provinces and dioceses). However, if anybody looks at deployment newsletters, it is very easy to find dwindling parishes that cannot even afford one full-time priest. Those are usually the ones that would desperately need a missioner to lift them up. TEC also has a handful missionary dioceses, often in Latin American countries, that have still much need of missionary work. Several colleges and universities in the US do not have full-time Episcopal chaplains, and this is another key area that needs to be dealt with...

I don't know... I'd be extremely cautious to receive such proposals with extreme happiness. It seems to me a signal of how disconnected we are from the needs of our own struggling parishes and dioceses. It also looks very naïve to me, and from a foreigner's perspective, even a bit offensive, as if the fact that TEC is more inclusive (and therefore "superior") justified the same wrong acts that have happened in the US, sponsored by foreign provinces. As a reminder, for those of us who struggle for full inclusiveness, there are still many parishes and dioceses who won't accept a gay priest, allow same-sex blessings or anything similar to that. There still are parishes that care more about clothes, pledging or ancestry than about a commitment to the Gospel. Much of that has changed, and will change, but we cannot close our eyes and think that all is done. It is not, and the way forward is long and full of obstacles, including some domestic ones too.

Jared wrote, I think there is still good theological and historical reasons for a polity mostly based upon geographically designated dioceses.

Care to unpack these reasons some more? I wonder if we were armed with a better understanding of those reasons we could do more. Whether more means evangelizing here at home, or convincing the communion that GAFCON is a threat to the communion, or communicating and living our own faith -- to give some examples.

I'd like to see more informal networks, between "Open and Inclusive" TEC members/churches/dioceses/GC(i.e., the democratic-majority, at every level), and "Open and Inclusive" members/churches/dioceses/nat'l bodies, of Anglicans all around the world.

I really don't think it's necessary (nor advisable) for TEC to plant churches abroad. Just work w/ the like (Gospel!)-minded, to strengthen and encourage each other.

JC Fisher

I like JC's vision and invitation. 'informal networks' and 'work with like (Gospel!)-minded, to strengthen and encourage each other' sounds a lot like a genuine communion of churches to me.

Donald Schell

For the situations to be similar, you would have to be invited by congregations and/or dioceses of other provinces. You make it sound like the bishops in Africa, South America, and Asia just up and decided one day to pick off congregations that had no problems with TEC.

Phil Snyder

That would be the easiest part of it, Phil. The interest is out there.

It seems like one place where the geographically local people need to be protected from their church (as the conservatives in North America claim) is with LGBT folk in Africa. I think TEC would have sound theological reasons for invading "Global South" dioceses on that account.

John Rebstock

As an American Episcopalian living in London, I would welcome the creation of American Episcopal missions in England. I suspect ECUSA's energy and its postive statement of Christianity would be a breathe of fresh air to the millions here who feel they are 'spiritual & searching' but can't abide the hypocrisy and conservatism of the Church of England. While there are other denominations in England, in reality only the Church of England or Rome have any clout or attendance.

At this point, the nearest ECUSA establishment is the Cathedral in Paris. Please come save us!

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space