Clarifying Archbishop Williams' letter to Bishop Howe

A response received via email from the Lambeth press office to the discussions around the Bishop Howe emails:

"It should be understood that the Archbishop's response to Bishop Howe was neither a new policy statement nor a roadmap for the future but a plain response to a very urgent and particular question about clergy in traditionalist dioceses in TEC who want to leave TEC for other jurisdictions, a response reiterating a basic presupposition of what the Archbishop believes to be the theology of the Church.

The primary point was that - theologically and sacramentally speaking - a priest is related in the first place to his/her bishop directly, not through the structure of the national church; that structure serves the dioceses. The diocese is more than a 'local branch' of a national organisation. Dr Williams is clear that, whatever the frustration with the national church, priests should think very carefully about leaving the fellowship of a diocese. The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions; Dr Williams is not encouraging anyone to ignore this, simply to understand the theological priorities which have been articulated in a number of ecumenical agreements, and in the light of this not to increase the level of confusion and fragmentation in the church."

Previous discussion of the letter is here

Episcopal Life is reporting here.

The Living Church reports here.

Comments (6)

As many of us thought: a specific response to a local question. And I agree that provincial structures exist "to serve dioceses," and that they are "significant" for the reasons cited. It might have been helpful to have in this clarification a comment that, just as congregations shouldn't abandon their local diocese to seek foreign oversight, so dioceses and bishops in them should not abandon their provincial structures to seek foreign oversight. This was the posture of the Windsor Report, and of the recent report of the majority of the Joint Standing Committee after the New Orleans meeting. It might have served well to hear it again expicitly from Canterbury.

Marshall Scott

This is to some extent helpful, as it corroborates my suspicion that this was a nonce letter and not a policy statement. Still, it is disturbing to note the persistent diminishment of the "national church idea."

Yes, priests relate to the church through their diocese, but bishops no less relate to the communion through their province. As I pointed out, the defining canonical point for the recognition of clergy is not that they are validly ordained and related to some bishop or other, but that they are a "member of a church in communion" with the receiving church in question. Yes, their membership is through the diocese, but it is membership in a church -- which is to say, a national, provincial, or particular church.

Bishops may relate directly to Canterbury when he invites them to Lambeth -- but his invitation hinges upon their being bishops of a church that is a member of the Anglican Communion. This it what appears to be missing, or downplayed, in Archbishop Rowan's thinking.

And perhaps it is meant to address broader claims such as Jensen's:
"From now on, there will inevitably be boundary-crossing, and the days of sacrosanct diocesan boundaries are over. Anglican episcopacy now includes overlapping jurisdictions and personal, rather than merely geographical, oversight. "

It would have been nice to have clarity on dioceses that do not fragment but do seek to leave (r.e., FW, Pitt.) for foreign oversight of their choosing or to just standby and act as if a province unto themselves.

In UK slang nonce means something other than "for the present occasion."

You know as a lowly pew warmer, I relate to the national church more than to the diocese. I am an Episcopalian, then a member of a specific parish, then an Anglican, then a member of a diocese. But, then, I'm just laity.

--Pam Alger

Um, John, actually:

Then again, we know wikipedia can never be wrong.

Let me begin by saying I have no time for schism. I do understand, I think, the remark above about being attached to the national church first. But, and it is a big but, whether we are laity or clergy we have the duty to put theology first. Theology isn't an optional extra.

That parishes and provinces were the offspring of the bishop and "his" parochia is a given. It was an early archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus who is attributed with creating the provincial and diocesan system in England.

Our Reformers sought to justify the ideal of a national church by using a highly romantic version of early English history. Even today some ecclesiastical provinces are multi-national as in the Province of West Africa while some provinces embrace areas which are not nation states.

TEC was created by the original dioceses formed in the 13 states. These dioceses agreed to cede to a national body certain limited functions. In recent years central authority has been increased largely in reaction to threats of schism. Whether such a development, arguing the general from the particular has been healthy is quite another matter. In any case it is quite obvious that dioceses on both wings of our church are apt to claim a level of subsidiarity beyond that proposed in the Virginia Report and other documents, which seems to suggest that the idea of diocesan autonomy is far from dead and not the province of any one faction.

Our major problem at all levels is a collapse of discipline or a will to discipline and an unwillingness of dominant power structures, left and right, to implement the simple but profound principles used in anti-racism training in identifying conscious and unconscious forms of repression against those whom one wishes to silence.

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