The Archbishop of Canterbury has written an e-mail to an American bishop that tries in inject calm into a diocese where several parishes wish to withdraw from the Episcopal Church by reiterating the concept that the diocese is the basic unit of ministry in an Anglican church. Updated again. (And again, with Tobias Haller's cogent comments.)
In a letter written on October 14th to Bishop Howe of Central Florida, Dr. Rowan Williams writes:
The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing - which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor. Action that fragments their Dioceses will not help the consolidation of that all-important critical mass of ordinary faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church for whose nurture I am so much concerned. Breaking this up in favour of taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions complicates and embitters the future for this vision.
The e-mail creates other questions and may have muddied the waters for many faithful Episcopalians. For example, Williams seems to minimize the role of the Provinces, which would seem to have implications that go far beyond the Episcopal Church (see for example The Province of Central Africa). It is hard to tell if Williams is saying that Provinces per se are less important, or that picking and choosing an agreeable province when ones own doesn't suit is not the answer. We await clarity on this point.
Another consequence of the email message is that it raises again that elusive concept of Windsor Compliance. While the implication is that parishes that associate with overseas provinces are not necessarily Windsor compliant, he seems to imply that a narrower understanding than the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council understood after the last House of Bishops meeting.
The context of the email's release is a pastoral letter describing the process Central Florida is developing to deal with the parishes and missions that wish to disassociate from the Episcopal Church. It is clear that the heart of the note is to provide support and calm for a conservative bishop trying to hold his diocese together, and disencouragement to separatists.
Here is a short piece from the Living Church headlined "Archbishop of Canterbury Discourages Separatist Solution."
New Updates: More comments appear in these places.
Thinking Anglicans has a new round-up here.
Over on Stand Firm, Stephen Noll comments in detail here.
Here is what the Anglican Scotist says .
Pluralist Speaks speaks about the letters implications.
Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside offer's his reflections here.