Topic: The status of the diocese

A number of events have occured over the last several days that share a common thread: the status of the diocese in the Anglican Communion.

Last week the diocesan synods of Ottawa and Montreal and the diocesan convention of California urged their bishops to adopt rites for same-sex blessings, contrary to parameters set in the Windsor report.

Over the weekend Bishop of Iker, of the Diocese of Fort Worth, spoke at the Forward in Faith convention. He made it clear he sees no future for Fort Worth in The Episcopal Church, and said the diocese is close to sealing an oversight deal with a foreign province. He even suggested the Diocese of Quincy would be taking steps in the direction of severing ties with The Episcopal Church. But Quincy, in convention over the weekend, decided not to pursue leaving at this time.

Interspersed in these events were two statements on the status of dioceses from Lambeth Palace - an email from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Bishop of Central Florida, and a subsequent clarification from the palace press office on behalf of the archbishop. Each was made public.

The archbishop urged that there be no fragmentation of dioceses - parishes and their rector should stay within their dioceses. The incentive to stay, he repeated, is that Windsor Compliant dioceses will remain in communion with Canterbury regardless of whether The Episcopal Church loses its status in the Communion. Many pixels have been used in the blogscape examining the statement, its intent and its implications. (Follow the links in the preceding paragraph.)

To many pundits the greatest concern revolves around the seemingly diminished status given to the province. Is that what the archbishop intends, and what would it mean for dioceses seeking to leave The Episcopal Church? (Is the formula to leave, but not seek foreign oversight (which is not Windsor compliant)?) Indeed, to point to other news regarding dioceses from this past week, what would it mean in the context of the discipline of the Bishop of Harare?

Or, to come back to a question raised by the events in the first paragraph, if one diocese is not Windsor compliant does that make the province noncompliant? How much authority does a province over a diocese in the archbishop's scheme?

Finally, as The Lead covered yesterday, the convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is coming up this weekend and will consider resolutions on whether to set a course out of The Episcopal Church. The speaker at convention is from Uganda. While the archbishop's letter to Central Florida may not have been intended to apply beyond that case, it may still influence the course of events beyond Central Florida.

Comments (7)

A point of clarification:

The Diocese of California has not adopted rites, but a taskforce assembled by previous conventions has offered three rites, acknowledged by resolution in last Saturday's convention, for trial use in this Diocese under the pastoral direction of our bishop, in accordance with C051 of General Convention 2003. This may seem like a fine line to some, but unlike the case of authorized rites NO PRIEST of this diocese may undertake a same-sex blessing without the explicit permission of our bishop. The trial rites are for this on a case-by-case basis only.

Authorized rites as understood here at least are publicly available for use in the entire Church and are generally practiced by licensed clergy without case-by-case episcopal pastoral oversight.

What the Windsor Report may mean by "authorized rites" remains open to interpretation, it seems to me, as not even the most recent Anglican JSC report seems clear on the matter.

One important element that I fear is getting lost in this debate is the self-understanding of most Episcopalians. We are, disproportionately, a Church of adult converts. While I think most of us believe that communion with Canterbury and membership in the Communion are highly desirable (and are willing to make sacrifices to keep the Communion intact), I don't think many of us came into the Episcopal Church primarily for the sake of those relationships, and I am certain that almost none of us had heard of the Instruments of Unity when we first settled our backsides against an Episcopal pew. The debate now raging, about whether our Church is, well, a Church, or a province of a larger Church, and who gets to make that decision is in many respects, breathtaking in its presumption. We are Episcopalians. We belong, by grace and choice, to the Episcopal Church. Whether the Episcopal Church belongs to the Anglican Communion is a matter of interest, but it is not at the core of our faith. If advocates of a more Catholic ecclesiology were to prevail in the current argument, what the Communion would then be saying to most of the people in our pews is that they do not belong to the Church that they thought they belonged to, but to another Church altogether, and that this second Church exercises an authority over them to which they have never consented, but to which they must consent now if they are to maintain their relationship with the church-ish entity into which they believed that God had led them.

So, to review, we'd propose to say to the people in our pews: Everything you thought you knew about the nature of your Church is wrong. We've kept that a secret from you until it was politically convenient to do otherwise. Submit to new authority in a structure that diminishes the participatory rights you believe that God intended you to have. Carry on.

Dear Jim:

I'm afraid your response reminds me of the person at a vestry meeting who says, "religion is OK but we must be practical".

Even for convert lay people, theology and ecclesiology are important. TEC is identified in its own Constitution with something beyond itself and with a heritage both Catholic and Reformed which form a symbiosis rather than a cafeteria of elements from which one may pick as a political moment may suggest!

I hope there is no such animal as "Episcopalianism" or I hope that when you were instructed about our doctrine, discipline and worship you were not informed that you were joining a denomination. I can't imagine where an instructor would find evidence to support that this has ever been TEC's self-perception.

Of course the Province -sometimes a "national" church, in some cases less than a "national" church and in some places a multi-national church- is important and is a unit which has been around for a very long time. I can't imagine a Primate of All England wanting to suggest anything else. That does not alter the fact that parishes are not at a level of subsidiarity which gives them permission to leave a diocese.

On the other hand if dioceses, in the creation of their Province, ceded authority to that Province, one wonders why, in TEC's case dioceses on the right and the left seem to claim the right to chart their own courses in defiance of their own church's laws and the common mind of its bishops.

Warmly,

Tony

Tony, I don't know whethere you were trying to write a condescending post, but you did. Aside from your inaccurate summation of my remarks, in which you attribute to me positions that are more or less the opposite of those that I hold, I don't actually disagree with most of what you say about the Church, but I am still offended by the presumption that you're entitled to show up here and start looking down your nose at us,as you have done here, and in the comment you left immediaely previous to this one.

I'm not "turning up here" looking down my nose at you Jim or anyone else. You ask whether TEC is a Church or a province of a larger church. You suggest that "Catholic" ecclesiology would place members of TEC under some outside authority of a Church they did not consent to join.

It seems to me that rather than address the topic addressed in the archbishop's letter as a topic, you have linked it to
an emotive fear not unlike the sort of rhetoric once found among Anglicans against Roman Catholics.

There's nothing particularly "Catholic" about +Rowan's suggestion anyway. TEC has always had a robust understanding of diocesan identity perhaps more so than that discovered in most other provinces.

I'm sorry if I annoyed you. That was not my intention. I did not intend to be condescending but I still stick to my point that theology is not just the preserve of parsons but of us all and that means we must engage theological subjects theologically.


I am not against approaching theologial issues theologically. I am against theologians behaving as though they are the only ones entitled to do so.

Dear Jim:

Me too!

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